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The new Commission begins to show its mettle

Posted by Helen Tuesday, August 17, 2004

There is a great deal of rejoicing still in the world’s media about the new Commission that, allegedly will show the wonderful new influence the new member states will have on the EU. (Please note the number of times I have used the word “new” there.) One rather fears that these people who “now ring bells” have not quite grasped the fact that the EU is a process as well as a structure. Therefore, individual Commissioners, entertaining though some of them might be, will not matter as much as all that.

Neither will the new European Parliament, incidentally, as it will be working on business left over from the previous one or the one before that. Elections and changes in members matter little to the EP as the European Union aims at a managerial style of governance rather than a political one.

It is, however, a delight to see that certain Commissioners are beginning to face, how shall I put it, personal difficulties already. First off the mark is the highly rated Danish Commissioner Mariann Fischer Boel, who has been put in charge of agriculture. It seems that the lady owns a 204 hectare farms and receives something in the regions of 60,000 euros a year under the CAP regime. Probably peanuts compared to some of the pay-outs but one feels that her own decisions might be influenced by this factor.

Apparently not. It is her husband who owns and runs the farm and receives the subsidy. Clearly these facts do not affect her at all. She floats, free as a bird, unencumbered by the knowledge that a large chunk of the family’s income depends on the somewhat iniquitous system she will be administering.

She was Agriculture Minister in Denmark but that is not the point. As long as she declared her interests (and she did, didn’t she) there is nothing to prevent the owner of a farm or one who is married to an owner from being a minister in charge of agriculture.

When it comes to being a Commissioner, the situation is slightly different. For one thing the CAP is EU policy and the Commissioner is, nominally at least, in charge of it. The Danish Agriculture Minister is not. For another, the CAP is generally agreed to be an iniquitous system, badly in need of reforming.

Also, there are clear rules. The Treaty of Nice states in Article 213:

"the Members of the Commission may not, during their term of office, engage in any other occupation, whether gainful or not".
Obviously, that cannot apply to the whole family. However, the argument that farm ownership is not like running a business is clearly slightly off beam. And there is the undeniable fact that she benefits from a system that she is called on to administer in however distant a fashion.