Maastricht: Proposals to curb 'meddling EC bureaucrats': Competition policy and regional aid

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The Independent Online
BRUSSELS - Germany has added its voice to the debate on how to make the EC more relevant to its 340 million inhabitants with ideas that limit the Commission's powers of intervention, notably in competition policy and regional aid.

The document will not be presented formally to foreign affairs ministers at their meeting on Monday, but will be part of a general debate at the Birmingham summit on subsidiarity - decision-taking at the lowest appropriate level - on 16 October.

It is potentially damaging to the power of the Commission, the body already lambasted by Chancellor Helmut Kohl as meddling Brussels bureaucrats. 'In the case of new policies provided for in the Treaty on European Union, the Community's activity is essentially confined to making 'contributions' in order to support and supplement the policy of the member states.' This seems to imply significant reduction of the Commission's power of initiative.

The document argues that the principle of subsidiarity should apply not only to legislation in the narrowest sense but in financing and administrative implications.

This idea is particularly worrying to some of the smaller EC states who look to the Commission to defend their interests against their larger and richer friends. Under the existing rules it is accepted that any member state that agrees to a particular Community-inspired programme can expect to see it partially funded from Community coffers. The German proposals would seem to suggest that link may be broken in the future, leaving poorer countries obliged to implement a certain programme without sufficient funds.

The main thrust of the German document is that subsidiarity must be made a legally binding principle. If it is up to the Commission to do only what member states cannot do, there is an implied obligation for member states to take positive action if they are deemed the most competent authority.

Thus if it is decided it is not the Commission that should be legislating on clean bathing water, there is even more of an onus on individual countries to do so. They cannot dodge their responsibilities because of, say, cost.