The European Commission Between Institutional Unity and Functional Diversification: The Case of Economic Governance

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Table of Contents: I. Introduction. – II. The one and the many European Commission(s): institutional coherence and functional fragmentation. – III. Economic governance: a new double-edged function. – III.1. The Commission in the post-crisis reform: a patchwork of functions. – III.2. The super-Olli Procedure: an EMU super Commissioner? – III.3. The European Semester: independent ECFIN or inclusive decision-making? – III.4. Preliminary conclusions: technical assessment and discretionary choices in polyfunctional economic governance. – IV. Functional diversification, democratic legitimacy and the Commission’s paradox. – V. Conclusions: the future of the European Commission (or the European Commission of the future).

Abstract: The Commission performs legislative, executive and quasi-judicial functions at the same time. Over time these functions have multiplied, and their nature has become increasingly diverse and fragmented. In the field of economic governance, for instance, the Commission is fulfilling a new multi-faceted function, combining technical assessment with political decisions. Yet, art. 17 of the Treaties require collegial and consistent decision-making processes. Does functional diversification challenge the Commission’s internal institutional unity and coherence? And what are the consequences for the Commission’s role in the Union’s institutional setting? This Article addresses these questions, by focusing on the functions in economic governance. The analysis unveils a paradox inherent in the Commission’s multi-functionality. The Commission is often entrusted tasks of a political nature in virtue of its independent and impartial status, without however being endowed with the legitimacy basis that would go with it. Therefore, the Article warns against the dangers of too extended functional diversity, and contends that clarity as regards the functions fulfilled by the Commission is essential if the institution wants to act legitimately vis-à-vis the other EU institutions, the Member States and the European citizens at large.

Keywords: European Commission – economic governance – Commission’s functions – democratic legitimacy – politicisation – collegiality.

European Papers, Vol. 6, 2021, No 1, pp. 269-292
2499-8249 - doi: 10.15166/2499-8249/466

* Research Associate, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies of the European University Institute,


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