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EU President’s Outburst Highlights the Need for Institutional Reform

You’ve probably heard by now some version of the story in which the President of the European Union said that American economic policy is putting us on “the road to hell”. What’s not always made clear in these accounts is that the EU Presidency is a rotating, ex-officio office. Each EU country gets a six month term during which its head of government becomes EU President. I think it’s been clear to observers for a while now that this is not an especially viable system. It sort of works when the EU Presidency is in the hands of one of the big European countries, but the office doesn’t carry enough power or legitimacy to really do anything in the hands of a small country leader.

And it’s also vulnerable to things like this. Mirek Topolanek is basically a nobody; he just lost a no-confidence vote in parliament, and though the Czech Republic is a great place to visit it’s not a particularly significant country. Its main geopolitical role is that right-wing Czech politicians tend to be much more further-right than you see in other European countries, they’re more like American or Australian right-wingers, so they can be counted on to do things like headline global warming denialist conference or say Barack Obama is leading us on a road to hell. In almost any conceivable other institutional arrangement, the person who winds up speaking for the EU would have to be someone whose point of view is much more reflective of mainstream European opinion. This probably isn’t at the top of the list of institutional reforms the EU needs, but compared to other proposals it ought to be relatively uncontroversial.

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