It is in the interests of the Commission to play countries off against each other in order to demonstrate the inescapable logic of the “European project”. The Commission suffers from the so-called “secretariat problem”: it is not a member state but a “secretariat” for the member states, and in this way pursues its own interests despite having been established by its members to further their own objectives. Secretariats do this, and take on a life of their own.
Various treaty language broadly excludes healthcare from EU policy making. The European Court of Justice has defined cross-border consumer rights. The European Commission, mindful of these, walks a thin line creating policy in the interstitial spaces that have the indirect effect of wagging the member state dogs. But that is the Commission defines its role in the absence of countervailing and/or collective action by member states. Consistent with bureaucratic behaviours, it focuses on technical issues, which in time come to define and constrain the policy spaces that member states have to deal with. The result is that member state autonomy and decision-making is constrained by prior technical issues.
The challenge is altering or indeed revoking the European Commission pan-European agenda set by the treaties, and which gives them license to literally expand like a gas into adjacent policy areas (arguing expediency rather than formal competency). This behaviour is well known in bureaucracies. It is not helped by the Commission being a monopoly supplier of legislation. Monopolists always do this.
What is more perverse is that the Commission has the mandate for ever closer union, which operationalises activities which undermine inter-state cooperation and collective or joint initiatives, undermines national interests, or more strongly, replaces the national interest with the “closer union” logic.
We now know that ever closer union cannot be an operational goal as it only feeds greater justification for the Commission to act — remember it is a monopolist defining its own scope of practice. When the Commission acts, members states must react.
In these days of the UK in/out referendum (23 June 2016), it is timely to review the functioning of EU institutions including the fundamental logic of the Commission.
P.S. I’ve been living in a few other EU member states, have been quite pre-occupied with work, hence the radio silence on this blog.