Pro and Cons on the implications of exclusive competence and shared competence for the European Union role in global governance.

The European Union as a sui generis organization, is not only a political and economic partnership among member states, but it represents a unique form of cooperation on a global level. After years of expansion and the last enlargement in 2014, the EU now consists of 27 member states and has been built through a series of binding treaties.

Throughout the history of the EU, all these member states have adopted a number of common policies, harmonized laws, all with the intention of strengthening economic, social, and political issues. Also, all members of European Union share a customs union, a single market in which all capital, goods, services, and people can move freely, a common trade policy, and a common agricultural policy.

According to Article 2 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (herein after TFEU), the EU has the following competences: (i) exclusive competence; (ii) shared competence; (iii) so-called support competence; (iv) coordination of economic and employment policies.

Throughout the history of the EU, the challenge has been how to guarantee relative rights and competencesand to maintain an institutional balance between EU institutions and member states. According to the Treaties, the CJEU has been given this role and also some other mechanisms such as European Court of Justice. After the Treaty of Lisbon (Article 18), it was reflected the multilevel governance structure implicit between the EU and member states. However, with the rise of the cooperation and the empowerment of the European Institutions with the passing of time, it has created scepticism. This scepticism was developed mostly by political powers that held the conservative view of the nation-state as being the centre of all political developments and questioned international authority as poised to be against their national interests.

The European Union as any other institution of the political public life is seen with scepticism and throughout the debate from all sides, we can hear the necessity of reform. On one side of the argument standthose who proclaim that the EU has achieved a great number of accomplishments, reaching and going beyond the already optimistic and counter the historical precedents that its founders had set out for it. The strengthening of the European Institutions according to this worldview has been in parallel with the rise in prosperity and security for all the subjects of this Union, who now enjoy numerous advantages, that their ancestors only a generation ago, would consider them impossible.

Another argument in support of this vision would be the fact that many issues and challenges for the world ahead of us, have an international nature. As such, the tackling of these issues could not be undertaken by one single state, but requires a high cooperation and coordination between states. The main paradigm for this case is climate change, which affects all countries irrespective of their national boundaries. This model, would see the strengthening of the already operating European institutions, by vesting them with an extended portfolio, such as the right to determine common monetary and fiscal policy for all member states, taking joint decisions on matters of foreign policy, in order to be a unified player in the global sphere, with one single stance and voice that would impact events.

On the other hand, as it is natural in any public debate, to have two sides wanting and campaigning for different objectives, there is  an enormous opposition to the abovementioned views and stances by people and organised political factions for whom the European Union is not regarded as a vehicle of peace and prosperity, but on the contrary as the main personification of the international body unaccountable to the public, centre-powers that caused the economic crises of 2008 that hit the south of the EU the hardest.

The current composition and organisation of the EU institutions, according to this perspective givesa disproportional amount of decision-making power to Brussels. A power, that is administrated by people who are unelected and are not held accountable by the masses of the people who are affected by policy making, which at its core is the main idea behind a democratic system, the ability to have decision-makers accountable to the people. Although, one could argue that on the European level the governments representing national interests have a say in policy making and the people who address the issues technically are experts in the area intowhich they operate, the sceptics would argue that many of the failings of the bloc are attributed precisely to experts drafting plans and making decisions, without considering the specifics and special circumstances of each country.

One of the most debated organs of the institutional framework of the European Union is most certainly the European Parliament, which is the embodiment of continental wide democracy, but has limited competencies to only discussing and approving or not the legislative norms, drafted by other bodies. If the European Union is to be vested with more competencies, it seems that this should be accompanied with a parallel extension in competencies for the EU Parliament, who logically, should grant the legitimacy to the institution to take decisions, given that is organ alone in the variety of the operating EU bodies, is the directly appointed and represents the wider European public, by vote. Another issue of a delicate nature is the competency and jurisdiction that lies with the European Court of Justice, which serves as the judicial branch of the European Union.

As discussed above there are numerous arguments for and against the competency sharing between member states and the European Union as a separate institution. One of the most important aspects that need to be taken into consideration in this debate is the effectiveness of planning and coordination in the expert level. One of the most distinguished features of the European Union, which is often subject to criticism is the fact that by gathering the elites of professionals in different areas of public policy, it is able to draft and to innovate in the field of policy making, maybe more than any government and inter-governmental entity with the exception of the United Nations. This capacity often is a vehicle that drives development and optimism in the EU member states, mostly by optimizing the utilisation of goods and services and also creating opportunity for worst off member states to be incentivised into improvement by adapting the standards to reach those of the most developed countries.

There is good experience and precedent in this regard from the European Union, for example when the so called “technocrats” in Brussels formulated the need for distributing with quotas the refugees that arrived in the shores of Europe seeking asylum, in order to take the pressure and the burden off the coastal countries that were the first recipients of the refugees. One such example is the quota that the European Union had in place for many years in the production of milk for each country. Although theoretically, this would help each country retain its power in this sector and protect the producers by competition from countries that produced more milk in quantity and cheaper in cost, in reality it created a big financial problem in States that were poorer and more depended on their exports, mostly in the Eastern part of the European bloc.

However, having illustrated briefly through the numerous examples that could have been provided regarding public policies and strategies in the European Union, we might say that partially they are successful and partially they are not. But, doesn’t the exact same logic and principle apply to national governments and policies? The European Union is hardly an exemption when it comes to having a dual record on public policy.

In my opinion it is indeed the question of competence sharing and decision-making the one that matters the most in order to tackle the current political situation the continent finds itself in. For this reason,it is essential theoretically and in practice to have a determining and clear distinction of competency fields and operational areas between member State governments and the institutions that represent the political entity that is the European Union, in order to better advance the agenda of global progress and to end the disputes that have accompanied the European Project for far too long.

Author: Juliana Cici

Juliana is currently a PhD candidate in Faculty of Law from University of Geneva and hold a master degree in European and International Governance from University of Geneva. She brings years of experience in advocacy for human rights in both national and international level and she is a former Deputy Commissioner for the Albanian Ombudsman. She has a special interest for gender equality as well as leadership; migration and climate change.

February 26, 2021