Today we went to the European Commission info-point education office to learn about the role of the Commission in the European political system and some of its main priorities. After a slight location mix-up, we arrived at the right place and had a briefing on the role and functioning of the European Commission by a retired Slovakian diplomat.

The Commission is the political executive of the EU, and acts as a college, meaning that its decisions are collective, and in the interest of the Union as a whole, not of individual member states. The Commission has 3 levels of competencies in authority with relation to member states – Exclusive, which includes Trade and Competition regulations; Shared, which includes Agriculture and Environmental laws; and Supporting, which includes Tourism and Education.

After the European Parliament elections in 2014, the European Peoples’ Party held a majority, and nominated Jean Claude Juncker to the presidency of the Commission. Juncker said that his priorities would be creating a digital single market, developing an EU Energy Union, negotiating the Transatlantic Trade Agreement, reforming the Economic and Monetary Union of the European Union, and a “targeted fiscal capacity” for the Eurozone.

The Digital Single Market is a sector of the pre-established European Single Market that covers e-commerce, telecommunication, and digital marketing, announced in 2015 by the Commission. It is one of the main priorities of the Commission today, and is considered vital to the progress of the Single Market. This is such an important issue for the EU because over 90% of jobs now require some kind of digital skills. It also is important in trade, as it will create over 11 billion euros in savings for consumers when shopping online, and currently, 52% of cross border purchases are blocked.

The three pillars of the DSM are: improving digital access, optimizing the business market, and driving growth and job creation.

The Commission has 4 main roles:

  • Right of Initiative
  • Policy and Budget Implementation
  • Guardian of the Treaties
  • Represent the EU to the world

The European Commission holds the exclusive right to introduce legislation to the Parliament and Council, known as Right of Initiative. The legislation is then passed to the other two bodies for approval and amendments. The bill goes through a reading period in each body in which they make appropriate changes and discuss the changes the other made. If the bill is not passed by the third reading session, the bill fails.

Under the Commissions responsibility to implement policy and its role as Guardian of the Treaties, it is also responsible for overseeing the application of the EU Treaties and laws. We discussed the process of invoking Treaty Infringement Procedures against member states of the EU. The Commission may take action against a member state if it fails to incorporate EU directives into national law fully and promptly, or if it has adopted or maintained laws which violate or distort EU laws. This process can be initiated either by a direct complaint (295 registered currently), or by the initiative of the commission (578 currently). Then there is a structured dialogue opened to determine the extent of the violations, and a pre-litigation procedure to notify the state of its infringements, and finally a referral to the ECJ to pass judgement and final sanctions. The EC can also sanction companies or bodies that are in violation of laws. This has happened recently with Fiat, which was receiving illegal state aid in the Netherlands and Luxembourg, and also with Google and Apple, for abusing anti-trust laws and giving illegal advantages to their own services.

We also discussed Juncker’s white paper on the future of the European Union. He outlined 5 potential directions that the Union might head in in the coming years. His options were carrying on with current policies, focusing on making positive reforms; re-centering the EU on the Single Market and eliminating political competencies; allowing member states to do more in specific areas of their interest; focusing on a narrower range of issues and tackling them more efficiently; and finally, deciding to do much more across a range of policy areas.

This visit provided our group with a lot more in depth and topical information and expounded on many of the ideas we had learned in class. The presenter was able to talk about many of the issues the Commission is currently dealing with, as well as its recent accomplishments, such as abolishing roaming charges for cell phones. After this presentation, we had the privilege of attending the High-level conference on migration management at the European Parliament, where we heard from many of the officials we’ve learned about, including Juncker, Antonio Tajani, the president of the EP, and Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission. The day was a great look at the inner working of the EU institutions and how they work together symbiotically to accomplish their duties and manage crises.