THE LEGACY OF THE MONNET ‘METHOD
WHY POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY IS LACKING IN THE EU:
THE LEGACY OF THE MONNET ‘METHOD’
University of Essex
Paper presented in the PSA Conference
University of Aberdeen, 5-7 April 2002
Panel 2.1, White Paper on Governance II
Paper presented in the PSA Conference
University of Aberdeen, 5-7 April 2002
Panel 2.1, White Paper on Governance II
University of Essex
WHY POLITICAL RESPONSIBILITY IS LACKING IN THE EU: THE LEGACY OF
THE MONNET ‘METHOD’
The European Commission’s White Paper on Governance calls for reform in the direction of openness, accountability, coherence, participation and efficiency, that is, in the
direction of responsible governance. At the same time it advocates a refocused andreinvigorated Community method. In so doing, it defends its own role as ‘motor of integration’
of the European project. It is shown that the intellectual and practical origins of the Commission’s role as ‘motor of integration’ can be traced back to the Monnet ‘method’ of
integration, which was particularly influential in the building of the Union and whose premiseswere neo-functionalist incrementalism and technocratic elitism. What is argued, is that the success of the Monnet ‘method’ and consequently, the prominent role of the Commission as‘motor of integration’, on the one hand, did provide much of the driving force of integration, but on the other hand, can be shown to be the principal cause of the failures of openness,accountability, coherence, participation and efficiency that the Union is called upon to confronttoday. Any consistent call for reform in the direction of adressing these failures, would need tore-evaluate the role of the Commission as ‘motor of integration’ and the Community method itself.
The European Commission’s White Paper on Governance starts with an acknowledgement of the achievements of fifty years of European Integration, but then quickly
goes on to note that European citizens feel ‘alienated’ from and disenchanted with the state of the Union. Citizens, it is argued in the White Paper, believe that the EU has shown itself unable to act in crucial moments (examples such as the BSE crisis and the conflict in Yugoslavia areimplied). Even when the EU has indeed acted, citizens have not given it due credit, because it is not clear to them that it is the EU and not national governments that are behind theimprovements in their lives. Member States are not troubled by such confusion; on the contrarythey do their best to encourage it, as they consider it to be in their benefit. Furthermore, citizens are not aware of who does what in Europe, and consequently, they do not see themselves represented by the Union’s institutions and feel powerless in the decision making process.
Outlining the problem in this way, the White Paper goes on to set out five principles of good governance and to propose changes in the process, the tools, and the institutions of governance, in tune with these principles. It is these proposed changes that are meant to dealwith – or at least contribute in the direction of dealing with – the ‘disenchantment’ felt by the citizens of the Union. At the same time, the White Paper calls for a reinvigoration and refocusing of the Community Method, that is, of the tripartite decision-making process whereby the Commission proposes, the Council and the Parliament decide and the Commission in cooperation with the Member States execute policy. Each of the EU’s institutions is called upon tofocus on their core tasks in the existent framework of the Community method (CEC, 2001b).
The White Paper: defending the Commission
There is wide agreement among prominent scholars of European integration that while the White Paper’s emphasis on achieving clarity and promoting responsibility is laudable, its insistance on particular changes in the direction of the reinvigoration of the Community method is suspicious (Joerges, Meny and Weiler, 2002). It has been argued, that the White Paper on Governance needs to be evaluated in political terms (Wincott, 2001). Through the White Paper, the Commission is argued to be trying to recover (Heritier, 2002: 73-77), and strengthen its positions in the EU power structure (Scharpf, 2002: 5-8). In particular, it is alleged that in defending the Community method, the White Paper proposals can be seen to be trying to prevent challenges to the Commission’s position in European governance. This is said to be particularly obvious in its call for the power to withdraw a legislative proposal if the subsequent discussion in the Council and the Parliament lead to the proposal’s serious modification, greater use of framework legislation, constraints on comitology and circumscription of the independence of agencies (Walker, 2001: 52).
What would the Commission stand to lose were the Community method to be seriously reconsidered? The Community method can be thought to be the product of intricate compromise between three sets of concerns: concerns with preserving national sovereignty, democratic concerns with representing citizens directly at the European level of decision and a third set of concerns, which historically, have had to do with the effort needed to keep European integration going. The Commission’s official tasks are initiation and execution of policy, international representation of the Community and guardian of the Treaties. But what has provided the Commission, which is a body of unelected officials with a very important position in EU governance, with moral and political recognition and strength, has been the historical role it has played in European integration as the ‘motor of integration’; its role in providing the driving force of integration.
This role is reflected in the Commission’s official task of initiating policy, but its symbolic importance extends beyond the confines of the exercise of that task. It may well be thought that a radical reconsideration of the European Union’s structure – which would include questioning of the usefulness of the Community method – would involve questioning that very role.
The Monnet ‘method’ and the Commission’s role as ‘motor of integration’
The practical and intellectual origins of the Commission’s role of ‘motor of integration’can be traced back to Jean Monnet and to what has been termed the Monnet ‘method’ of integration. Monnet is considered the ‘father’ of European integration, and for good reason.
Many aspects of the way in which what today is known as the European Union has evolved, can be traced back to the early fifties, the period when Jean Monnet set up and became the first President of the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). Monnet’s aim was to unite Europe so that the devastation of war and economic destruction that it witnessed during the two world wars of the twentieth century would not be repeated. This was not a new idea; what was new was the way, or the ‘method’ which he envisaged for the uniting of Europe. Europe, Monnet writes in his Memoirs:
‘…will not be built all at once, or as a single whole: it will be built by concrete
achievements which first create de facto solidarity.’ (Monnet, 1978: 300).
The way to unite Europe would be to show the States their common interests and
convince them to act on these interests, pursuing them on a permanent basis. Concerted action was to be a ‘concrete achievement’, insofar as there was continuity and institutionalisation of a variety of partial projects of co-operation on economic and social issues the common projects that would result from it. These projects would habituate European states and their citizens in co-operation. Gradually co-operation would be needed on other projects and whole sectors of common activity, due to the inter-dependence that would emerge from initial co-operation.
Given time, Europe would become united without realising it, as common projects would lead European states to pool their sovereignties. The first step was coal and steel: the sector that feeds wars, but also the sector that would need to move ahead if the reconstruction of Europe were to take place after the second world war.
But the plan would not proceed automatically: guidance would be needed. Monnet placed great importance on the actions of a European-minded technocratic elite that would oversee the process of integration and benignly guide it, without, however, engaging in political conflict, or overtly contesting the nation-states’ sovereignty. Without such an elite, which would be needing some institutional coverage under which to operate, Monnet would not have been confident about the nation-states’ capacity and willingness to co-operate, automatically, only because some partial projects brought them to depend partially upon each other.
This was the idea behind the High Authority of the ECSC, of which the European Commission can be considered a direct descendant. The High Authority was meant to be:
‘…a strong executive authority, whose primary function would be developmental and which would act by enforcing a code of industrial good conduct. While seeking the advice of unions and other ‘constructive’ elements, the new directorate was to regulate business through competition, pricing and investment policy, and conduct joint buying and selling; as such it was intended to operate in a manner opposite to that of cartels. Where they existed to protect profits the new High Authority…would encourage productivity; where private producer arrangements operated secretly, it would use open covenants; and where they were run by private managers in the service of private interests, it would be an agent of the public
weal.’ (Gillingham, 1991:139-40).
The High Authority would not be run by politicians of the European nation states; it was designed to be a body of experts and administrators, coming from the nation States, but independent from them and loyal to the European idea. They would provide the advice upon which governments and men of politics would act (Featherstone, 1994: 154), they would initiate proposals and have the authority to issue regulations binding on the member States within the relevant field of competence. An Assembly of national parliamentarians, a Court of Justice and
a Council of Ministers were to complement and act as respectively safeguards and
representatives of the States at the European level, but it would be the High Authority that would have the central role.
It was thus that the High Authority assumed the (moral and practical) role of ‘motor of integration’, a role that the European Commission inherited, reaffirmed on several occasions and has managed to hold on to, despite the fact that it is no longer the ECSC that is of common European concern, but the entire European Union, whose sphere of activity has come to encompass most aspects of the lives of European citizens. It is the same role that it is defending now, in a period that might well turn out to mark the future of Europe as profoundly as the period when Jean Monnet was setting up the ECSC.
Functionalism and technocratic elitism
The Monnet plan stood on two clearly distinguishable intellectual premises. The first premise was neo-functionalist incrementalism: In the fifties and sixties, neo-functionalism was highly influential in attempts to explain the impetus towards European Integration. Since then, although it has gone through modifications and reappraisals, it has been and continues to be one of the most influential approaches to European integration. At its core was the concept of ‘spillover’, the prediction that once initially triggered, European integration, at least at the economic level, would be self-sustaining. Initial co-operation on partial, but well-focused projects would get the internal dynamics of the community going, leading it to further, co-operation. Cooperation in one sector would gradually require co-operation in other sectors (Lindberg, 1963: 10-11). Economic inter-dependence would be the drive behind this movement towards integration, which would proceed quasi-automatically (‘functional spillover’), not political decision, i.e. an overarching public political agreement or a constitution.
The consideration here was that the political sphere can be separated from the socio-economic sphere and that political union would come, if at all, at the end of a long process of economic engagement and intradependence.
Citizen allegiance and support was not initially necessary; rather it would follow from the ‘spill-over’ process, as loyalties would be ‘redirected’ from the national to the European level (Haas, 1958: 16).
The second intellectual premise of the Monnet plan was technocratic elitism: Jack
Hayward claims that Monnet was:
‘…accustomed to the manipulation of politicians whose expectancy of high office in any government was likely to be short-lived and of bureaucrats more inclined to inertia than innovation…’ (Hayward, 1996:252).
Monnet’s general preference for governance by a technocratic elite, in other words, was due to his experience of the Fourth French Republic and to the operation of the French Planning Commission, which he headed after the war (Page, 1997: 5). Monnet experienced the instability and inefficiency of the governance of France, which was due to the radical and conflict-ridden parliamentary politics of the time, and he sought not to inflict the new European project with those shortcomings. Instead, he was in favour of governance by a small group of experts, because technocratic governance had been, in his view, the stable, long-term oriented and ‘responsible’ element throughout the Fourth French Republic (Duchêne, 1996: 51-53). It is possible that his Fourth Republic experience led him to assume that selected technocrats are more likely to be responsible than political agents.
One objection to this interpretation of the history of European integration may be that the influence of the Monnet ‘method’ upon the development of the Union is overestimated.
According to Dehousse :
‘It has become commonplace to lay the blame for this situation on the functionalist path followed so far: deliberate avoidance of discussions on the ultimate (political) objectives of European integration and the multiplication of ad hoc co-operation schemes, it is said, have lead to a situation in which citizens are unable to make sense of the present construction’ (Dehousse, 2000:2).
In his view, it is simplistic to attribute the state of the European Union to one, supreme architect with a project that was masterminded and executed with precision (Dehousse, 2000:2).
But to say that the Monnet ‘method’ has had a profound influence upon European integration is not to say that we can attribute everything that the European Union was, is or will be to Monnet’s ideas; it is only to say that the influence of his ideas was important and decisive with respect to the formation of certain characteristics of the European project.
Another objection may be that today’s European Commission has little to do with all of this. Yet, the White Paper on Governance, as well as its preceding Draft released in May 2001 (CEC: 2001a), has shown us that this is not the case. If the White Paper’s proposals were not a raw expression of institutional ’self-interest’, they certainly were an expression of the Commission’s institutional culture which incorporates ‘technocratic spirit’ (Magnette, 2002: 31) and ‘bare pragmatic functionalism’ (Weiler, 2002: 209).
It must be said, however, that it also incorporates a strong moral committment to European integration despite the exclusive way in which it perceives its role in the process, the role of ‘motor of integration’. As Scharpf has put it, the Commission continues to see itself as the ‘lone hero of European policy-making and
implementation’ (Scharpf, 2002: 17).
The Monnet ‘method’ and the five principles of good governance
If to say that the Monnet ‘method’ has been and continues to be influential in the development of the EU is a commonplace, here we will go a bit further than that. What will be argued is that insofar as the Monnet ‘method’ has had and continues to have a profound influence on the development of the European Union, that influence has been detrimental to the development of openness, accountability, efficiency, coherence and participation in the European Union, exactly the principles of governance that the White Paper itself calls for. If ‘creeping competencies’ (Pollack, 1995) have been creeping indeed and as such they have created uncertainty about the balance of power among the different levels of EU governance, they also have brought about uncertainty about the delineation and allocation of responsibility among the actors that operate at the various levels of the European Union.
But the phenomenon of ‘creeping competencies’ is a direct consequence of functionalist incrementalism: the strategy behind the Monnet ‘method’ was exactly the inexplicit and gradual redirection of competencies from the national centres to a European centre, in the process of which vague amounts of sovereignty would pass from one level to the other. If policy changes have constantly raised questions about constitutive rules (Héritier 1999: 273-80), this has been because costitutive rules were weak with respect to the projects and policies that were meant to be the spearheads of European integration. The consequence has been incoherence and inefficiency in European Union policy-making; incoherence because some sectors became Europeanised while others not (eg. agriculture as opposed to taxation) and inefficiency because incoherence led to the impossibility of overall co-ordination. But the weakness of the constitutive rules was a direct result of functionalist belief in ‘economy now, politics, perhaps, later’.
If decision making in the European level is horizontally complex (Weale, 2000: 12-3),
already to such an extent that insiders, let alone citizens, are finding it extremely difficult to follow it from beginning to end, then this means that it is extremely difficult for citizens to understand who does what and when (It suffices to think that, at least in the first pillar, it is not only the EP-Commission-Council triangle involved in decision-making, but also comitology, interest groups, experts, NGOs, etc.) It also means that it is extremely difficult to attribute responsibility, to apportion blame when something goes wrong and praise when something is well done.
Under circumstances of such complexity, effective practices of accountability, openness and transparency become very difficult to establish, while public trust diminishes. The obvious result of horizontal complexity is the mystic nuance that the utterance of ‘Brussels’ has acquired and the vague suspicion of ‘conspiracy’ that accompanies it. But horizontal complexity, comitology in particular, is to a great extent a result of the Council’s effort to keep the Commission in check, as the latter is not effectively checked by the Parliament. It is only since the recent episode of the Santer Commission’s resignation that the EP has begun to show its teeth to the Commission. Another legacy of the Monnet method, which placed a great
emphasis on the Commission’s independence from the Member States, while it did not provide for a strong Parliament to keep it accountable.
If there is more ‘bargaining’ than ‘problem-solving’ in the politics of the Union, and more appeal to self-interests than to common values (Scharpf, 1988), then this certainly does not do much for the development of a European public sphere, which is crucial for the articulation of and debate on political alternatives that citizens can identify with and politicians can take responsibility for. The politics of bargaining are politics of secrecy: the bargaining elites have every interest to conceal, or not to reveal what they gave up in order to get something else that is higher in their priorities of ‘self’-interest’. But was it not the case that the Monnet ‘method’ prioritised economic projects which would ‘create de facto solidarity’, rather than explicit agreement on a political structure into which citizens could find their place? It seems that loyalties have not automatically shifted to the European level after all.
Shifting the blame In the White Paper it is recognised that:
‘The step by step integration, which has characterised the Union’s development, has tended to slice policies into sectoral strands with different objectives and different tools: over time the capacity to ensure the coherence has diminished’ (CEC, 2001b:28).
This acknowledgement is positive, as much as it is ironic. What the White Paper fails to mention, naturally, is that it is to the extent that the Commission has been successful in its role of ‘motor of integration’ that problems of accountability, openness, etc. have emerged. This is not to say that the Monnet ‘method’ has not served its historical aim. Without it, it is highly probable that European integration would not have been possible at all and that strife and economic stagnation would still be haunting our neighbourhood.
As Altiero Spinelli once put it,
‘Monnet has the great merit of having built Europe and the great responsibility to have built it badly’ (Burgess, 1991: 55-6).
But it is certainly to say that, at least, the Commission should not be trying to lay the blame on others for the lack of openness, accountability, efficiency, coherence and participation in the EU.
Is this what the Commission is doing in the White Paper on Governance? It would
certainly seem so. What is implied in the White Paper is that the Member States on the one hand, and the Treaties (obviously agreed upon by the Member States), on the other, are to blame for all the malaise: it is Member States that cannot agree on overarching policy objectives, and instead they pursue sectoral policies in a piecemeal way. It is also the Member States that take advantage of the lack of clarity in the allocation of competencies, in order to present what gets done at the European level as their achievement, while shifting responsibility for what does not get done (or what gets done badly) to Europe.
Far from trying to cover up the irresponsibility the Member States, the following needs to be said: it the Member States are irresponsible for taking advantage of the lack of clarity regarding competencies in order to shift all the blame and take all the credit; if the comitology is confusing and the Council is secretive, then what of the background to the episode regarding the Santer Commission’s resignation in March 1999? (Macmullen, 1999, Costantinesco, 2000, van Gerven, 2000). What of the European Parliament’s inability to construct a truly European public debate, which is a substantial condition of accountability, given that without such debate it is hard to see what political actors should be held responsible for in Europe? While the behaviour of individual and collective actors can certainly be argued to make a difference, what has been shown is that there are deeply rooted structural reasons for the lack of openness, accountability, efficiency, coherence and participation in the EU, and that these reasons lie in the influence of the Monnet ‘method’ in which the role of ‘motor of integration’ that the European Commission has inherited from the High Authority of the ECSC, is central.
(T)he current discussion is based on the view that the functional method worked out by the Monnets and the Schumans, based on concrete objectives and gradual change, has been outlived (Dehousse, 2000:2).
This indeed seems to be the case. In response to the White Paper on Governance,
Scharpf has argued exactly that the approach reflected in the White Paper is not only outdated, but it would also be dangerous from now on. We have come to a stage where ‘negative integration’, upon which there was general consensus, has completed its course and will have to give its place to ‘positive integration’, that is, to political decisions, that will involve winners and losers.
Failure to address these questions politically, which is what would result if the Monnet ‘method’ were to continue, running its course, would be disastrous for the legitimacy of the European Union.
The Commission, as it has expressed itself through the White Paper, always according to Scharpf, seems not to have taken into account these changes, or, if it has, it certainly has not taken their institutional consequences seriously (Scharpf, 2002:3-4).
This paper has made an attempt to add another argument to the case against the continuation of the practices and the rationale that belong to the Monnet ‘method’: not only can it be destructive of whatever democratic legitimacy the Union has, but also, it can further hinder the development of good governance, as good governance is understood by the Commission itself.
Does the argument to abandon the Monnet ‘method’ necessarily imply abandoning the Community method as well? In principle, a radical reconsideration of the European Union’s structure, which would start from the premise of abandoning the Monnet ‘method’, would have to include a reconsideration of the Community method as well, insofar as the Commission’s role in it as ‘motor of integration’ is justifiable only in the context of the Monnet ‘method’.
In other words, if the Monnet ‘method’ must go, then so must the justification of the Commission’s role as ‘motor of integration’. And if the usefulness or appropriateness of that role becomes seriously questioned, then the Community method needs to be rethought.
However, there are many practical considerations to be taken into account, which could turn out to favour the status quo: the Commission is not just the Union’s ‘motor of integration’, despite the fact that it is from this role that it derives its moral significance in the European Union. It is the Union’s centre of information and expertise, ‘policy enterpreneur’, point of reference for a multitude of European interest groups, reliable mediator between the contrasting interests of the Member States.
The question is: need the Commission exercise these tasks in the context of the Community method? The answer is: not necessarily. Other formulas might be found in order to reconcile the need for the Commission’s technical and administrative expertise with the need for openness, accountability, coherence, efficiency and participation in European governance, and to make politics the ‘motor’ of European Integration.