Is Berlin running the Brussels show?

Written by Henri Malosse on 16 April 2018

Henri Malosse | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

The recent elections in Hungary provide an excellent indicator for Europe’s current status. Many in Brussels predicted a collapse of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s majority, but in fact the opposite happened.

As the number of EU member states led by eurosceptics and eurocritics continues to grow, it is not Europe that is being rejected, but the way it is governed. The first generations of European civil servants were pioneers; those bureaucrats who have followed have forgotten the values and principles of the foundations of the EU treaty.  Over the years, the European Commission’s culture of ‘European construction’ has followed only a vague strategy based mainly on trade.

But this is not the real scandal. The real scandal is the hegemony, leadership and dominance of one member state over the others and which remains unchallenged - nationals of a single country heading up the EU’s three major institutions.

In 2001, French President Jacques Chirac accepted to break the equilibrium between the senior countries during the debates on the Treaty of Nice. He endowed Germany with 99 MEPs, 26 more than the Italians, the French and the British. 

The European Parliament has been under German influence ever since. The two main political groups - the EPP and S&D - are led by Germany, while a very powerful Klaus Welle sits as Secretary General.

Germany has also appeared to dominate the European Council since the election of its president, Donald Tusk. The Pole’s appointment for a second term last year was made under pressure from Germany and against the will of the Polish government. Poland had reproached Tusk when he was Prime Minister for delivering the Polish businesses of press, insurance and banks to his powerful neighbour in the West.

The European Commission also finds itself under the control of the EU’s most powerful member state. It is well known that Jean-Claude Juncker’s candidacy for the position of Commission President was supported by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

She in turn imposed Martin Selmayr - a former lobbyist for the powerful Bertelsmann Foundation, an organisation derived from German media - as Juncker’s chief of staff. Selmayr’s influence in this role certainly did not go unnoticed. He has now been parachuted as the Commission’s Secretary General - a strategic position at the helm of over 50,000 EU officials. This appointment has not been without controversy, as the Commission circumvented the rules of procedure.

The European Parliament and journalists have been justified in raising concerns regarding the Commission’s lack of transparency and the conditions of Selmayr’s appointment. However, they should be asking how a lobbyist with affirmed German interests achieves such a strategic position while his compatriots already control the other institutions.

Is the real scandal not in the fact that, in the name of the sacred principles of Maastricht, there is a growing impression that the German economy is the driving force in Brussels and that Berlin is the mastermind of Europe?

About the author

Henri Malosse is the former President of the European Economic and Social Committee

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