The first item on the government’s agenda after the election will be the launch of the negotiations on leaving the EU. Opponents of the Conservatives are inclined to believe that Theresa May would not be up to the task of negotiating Britain’s new relationship with the EU. They believe she will be rolled over by the well-prepared, super-efficient Brussels machine.
The first proposition is probably true. The second is not. I say that for three reasons. Firstly, Europe’s bureaucracy is staffed by the brightest and best, by highly capable, knowledgeable men and women, but they are not the ones running the EU. Europe is run by politicians. Secondly, most senior politicians are from centre-right parties which were once allied to Britain’s Conservatives. Finally, these politicians have a track record of taking seriously bad policy decisions.
The British press likes to represent Jean-Claude Juncker and his colleagues as bureaucrats. In reality the members of the European Commission are politicians (though ironically, Britain’s current commissioner is a career civil servant.) The normal qualification for appointment to the Commission is senior ministerial experience. Most members of the current Commission have served in their home country government, and four are former prime ministers.
Half of the Commission are from centre right parties which belong to a Europe wide organisation known as the European People’s Party (EPP). Britain’s Tories were also part of the EPP until 2009 when David Cameron made good a promise given when he stood for the leadership of his party. Juncker was elected as Commission President when the EPP topped the poll for the European Parliament in 2014.
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Jos Gallacher lives in Brussels and currently represents Labour International on Labour’s National Policy Forum.