EU Institutional Evolution

I’ve flagged the EU-U.S. agreement on bank data sharing a few times now as an issue capable of driving EU institutional evolution under the Lisbon Treaty, perhaps more so than the newly created posts that were expected to do the heavy lifting. So it’s noteworthy that EU interior ministers are now calling for negotiating a new agreement, after the EU Parliament shot down the previous one, agreed to before Lisbon gave oversight of such agreements to parliament.

The key here is that the U.S. wants the data that the agreement provides very badly, and the EU Commission wants to provide it very badly, so long as it’s agreed to on an EU-wide basis. The alternative is bilateral agreements between the U.S. and the two countries where the SWIFT servers are now located (the Netherlands and Belgium). That wouldn’t impact the U.S. much. (In fact, it would probably result in a better deal from Washington’s perspective.) But it would dramatically weaken the EU’s credibility at a time when that’s already suffering.

Because of the parliamentary oversight, the EU Commission will now be forced, in negotiating the new deal, to balance its desire to be responsive to U.S. priorities with a desire to be responsive to European public opinion. That not only puts European opinion at the heart of policymaking in a way it usually isn’t in the EU, it also pits the executive and legislative branches in competition to represent it, in a way that can only increase popular identification with the union’s agenda.

In practice, a lot will depend on the parliament’s willingness to defend its turf without slipping into simple obstructionism, and subsequently on the EU’s ability to maintain solidarity should the U.S. seek to slip in through the bilateral backdoor.

But in theory, the increased transparency of the process is how Europeans will begin to see themselves when they look at the EU, as opposed to a bunch of technocrats engaging in opaque backroom deals in Brussels. And the more credible Europe becomes to Europeans, the more crredible it will inevitably become abroad.

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