Commission Vice-President Guenther Verheugen clearly hasn’t watched Yes Minister. In an extraordinary outburst in an interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung today he is corruscating about the behaviour of some officials, particularly the senior ones, in defying their political masters.
Below is BM’s own botched translation of some of the juicy bits.
The size of the commission is “already a problem. The more commissioners there are the more DGs there are, and that is the problem. The whole development over the last few decades has ushered in such authority for officials [in the commission] that now the most important political task of the 25 commissioners is to control the apparatus. There is a continuous power struggle between commissioners and the top officials. Some think to themselves: ‘the commissioner is going to be gone in five years, and so is just squatting here temporarily, but I’m sticking around.'”
“Of course this all goes on under the surface. The commissioners have to watch out that important decisions are taken in their weekly meetings, instead of officials carrying them out among themselves.”
“Formally”, officials are not actually taking the decisions. “But unfortunately it does happen that during contacts with member states or with the Parliament, officials give their own personal views as the opinion of the commission. That is the real bureaucracy problem.”
For example, “officials have tried to agree among themselves such an important question as the use of pesticides. The commissioners only came to know about this question because all of a sudden there was disagreement between the officials. From then on it became an issue for the commissioners.”
[bizarrely, he declines to comment on another issue in which officials are suspected of having taken too much initiative, namely savings banks. ‘You’re not expecting me to pass comment on this thorny issue’ he tells the interviewer.]
“My theory is, that in general too much is being decided by officials.”
[why so little progress in the ‘bonfire of the regulations’?]
“I posed exactly this question before the summer break. And thereby criticised internally quite harshly some DGs, which obviously were not taking seriously the will of those at the top of the commission to cut bureaucracy, because the whole concept didn’t suit them.”