Which government leader will dare to tackle the EU agencies?

18 February 2018

Which government leader will dare to tackle the EU agencies?

Tomorrow afternoon in the European Parliament we will be discussing the functioning of the European Agencies, which number around forty. It would be a fine thing were the heads of government to include such a discussion in their negotiations on the multi-annual budget which will determine how much the European Union can spend from 2021. The biggest savings could be made by putting an end to the pumping of money back and forth between the member states and Brussels. Savings could also be achieved by merging or closing down a number of agencies. I'm curious to find out which of the government leaders will show real leadership and instigate such a debate.

During the last few years I have been a member of the working group which, together with the European Commission and the Council of Ministers has been investigating what has been happening with all of these agencies. A great deal of time has been devoted to the round of spending cuts under which the agencies, in common with all other EU institutions, were obliged to sack 5% of their staff. On paper most agencies met this target, but in practice full-time staff employed directly by the agency have been replaced by outside consultants who are much more expensive. So this hasn't exactly been a success. Though in relation to our other task, the enquiry into possible agency mergers, we've had even less. I was able to prevent the book being closed on this, but in the end it's down to European Commission, as part of its five-year evaluations, to look into whether anything is possible. For that, we didn't need the working group at all.

To be fair I don't think for one moment that it's the fault of the Commission itself that there has been no progress on these matters. They could see as well as I can that you don't put a police training school in Austria when Europol is based in The Hague; or that the EU Rail Agency ought not to be based in both Lille and Valenciennes; or that four agencies are needed for input into social policy. In fact in each of these examples it's a case of member states holding strictly to previous agreements. So everyone has something to lose, and they would rather have agencies which have what are sometimes important functions, such as approval of novel food products, chemicals or medicines, hidden away in (respectively) Parma, Helsinki and Amsterdam. It's time for a true leader to put an end to this entire circus. As many as possible of these agencies should be located in central locations such as Brussels and, whatever else, agencies with similar tasks should be placed close to each other. This would be good for democratic monitoring and would reduce costs.

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