Politicizing EU Competition Policy

The new European Commission has been named. What should be its primary goals?

The Commission was originally created as a technocratic body relatively independent of either national or supranational control - correctly so, given its mandate. The Commission works best when it sticks to this role. Think of the excellent work it has done in the area of competition policy: breaking up cartels and stopping state aid, even when it comes in disguised forms, such as government guarantees on company debt.

The lesson is that Commissioners should focus on their specific tasks, bearing in mind the interests of the EU rather than those of their country of origin. Mario Monti, the successful Commissioner for Competition, happened to be Italian, but nobody ever accused him of pursuing an "Italian agenda." In fact, his fight against state aid clashed with normal Italian practice.

An innovation by current President Romano Prodi's Commission helped. Prodi's Commission decided to send Commissioners "into the field": their offices were no longer next to the President's office, but located in the department for which each was responsible. This forced Commissioners to concentrate on their jobs and keep an eye on the all-powerful director-generals and their bureaucracies; there was little time left for "big picture" politics.