The Commission's Work Programme for 2004

28 January 2004

EPC hosted a Breakfast Policy Briefing with David O’Sullivan, Secretary General of the European Commission to discuss the “Commission’s Work Programme for 2004” on 27 January 2004. The briefing was chaired by Hywel Ceri Jones, Chairman of the EPC’s Management Board. A question and answer session followed. This is not an official record of the proceedings and specific remarks are not necessarily attributable.

Despite the drastic changes that the European institutions, particularly the European Commission, would undergo in the course of 2004, the Prodi Commission would continue to forge ahead with its important work programme which included making enlargement a success, further elaborating the Wider European Neighbourhood programme and Justice and Home Affairs policy and the need for emphasising progress on the Lisbon Agenda, competitiveness and employment policies. Finally, the Commission’s opinion on Turkey’s membership application would predetermine certain tasks for the new Commission. A look back over the Prodi Commission at the end of the year would prove that this Commission had indeed delivered on promises made in 1999.

Mr. O’Sullivan reflected briefly on the recent developments with respect to the European Constitution and stated that the coming months would be dominated by efforts on behalf of the Irish EU Presidency to find a functional way forward. He praised the presidency for its wide consultative efforts to achieve consensus and put forward a plan by March. Still, it was not certain a consensus could be achieved.

Looking ahead to the debate possibly overlapping into 2005, Mr. O’Sullivan warned that this could warrant an “unfortunate clash” between discussions over the future financial perspectives and the Constitution. To make enlargement a full success, the necessary funding needed to be guaranteed. The Commission would present its proposals regarding the future financial perspectives (2007-2012) on February 12, and to prove in which areas there was “value-added for money spent.” The time-frame here was of crucial importance: the new financial perspectives had to be agreed by 2005 to allow for adequate planning and programming in 2006, ahead of its entry into force in 2007.

Enlargement - a cause for celebration

Enlargement was a cause for celebration in the Union. Twenty-five years ago, no one would have believed in a historic reunification of the European continent, and now it was a reality. He outlined the procedures and timing for the nomination and approval of the new Commission, first with 30 members, through the twinning of newly appointed Commissioners with the current 20, which would then be reduced to a newly chosen Commission of 25 by 1 November. The Parliamentary elections in June would also be of fundamental importance for this enlarged Europe. The ratification of the Constitution would facilitate a pan-European, party-based debate ahead of the elections, but parties needed to pull together nevertheless. The new Commission President would be appointed by the European Council after the elections, to assume his post following parliamentary approval in November.

Policy challenges for the next Commission

The new Commission would face a number of challenges in its term:

1.  definition of a political programme
2.  organisation of the college of Commissioners
3.  distribution of portfolios
4.  cooperation between services and Commissioners
5.  extension of its communications work

The new Commission had to give itself a clear political programme to achieve within its term. The choice of the completion of the single market for the Delors Commission and enlargement for the Prodi Commission had helped define clear political paths to pursue. This agenda would then have to be supported by all three institutions: Lisbon, Justice and Home Affairs or Europe’s role in the world, were all foreseeable projects. The Commission would also have to “package” the programme in such a way that it was seen to be delivering for Europe’s citizens, he said.

The organisation of the college would also be an issue to grapple with. The President would have a crucial function in this. Either all 25 Commissioners would be given their own portfolio or the idea of clustered or rotated Commissioners might return to the forefront. The final decision on this matter would be a defining moment for the Commission.

He cautioned that the services should not be changed drastically to fit new portfolios, should these be created. “It would be better for the house if it was kept rather stable,” he said. The synergy of services was not quite yet achieved. It was a challenge for administrations worldwide to achieve a full integration of all policy areas. What was needed was earlier and wider collaborative efforts between the services.

The administrative reform spearheaded by Vice-President Neil Kinnock had been substantial and controversial at the same time, yet the changes to the financial management and the staff statute put the Commission in a position in which it could flexibly adapt to the challenges ahead.

Finally, enlargement would bring challenges with respect to how the Union communicated information about its structures and policies to its citizens, particularly in the newest Member States. The Commission needed to rely on Member States to play their part in this, but it could be at the forefront of these programmes. He criticised the lack of a truly European television news outlet that provided EU citizens with information about the Union, similar to CNN.

“The coming period offers a huge opportunity to achieve a great deal. The European citizens expect a lot from Europe and sometimes they get things they do not expect. They need to be reassured. All European institutions need to buy into the common project,” he concluded.