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Coming of Age: The European Community and The Economic Summit

Susan Hainsworth

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The Commission:

The most notable trend evident in the EC's participation in international economic summitry has been the considerable and impressive growth in the scope and dimensions of the Commission's involvement and influence -- in both concrete and symbolic terms -- in the summit process. Within the Community, the Commission's executive status has increased in power and legitimacy through its active contributions and assertiveness in the internal preparation and consensus-building process of the EC. In the external context, the Commission's international prestige and status have been enhanced by its role in the summit decision-making structure. The inclusion of the Commission President in summit deliberations reinforces its legitimacy as an influential international actor,and gives it access to the international arena at the highest political level. In this respect, economic summitry is unique,as it is the only summit-level club beyond the EC which the head of the EC Commission attends on a regular annual basis.

The augmentation of the Commission's role and influence at the summit reflects evolutionary developments in the Community's political and institutional equilibrium. The development and consolidation of the EC system since the mid-1970s has involved considerable modifications in the Community's balance of power, attributing more responsibility and authority to the Commission. While by no means implying a drastic "saut qualitatif" towards the concentration of absolute authority in the Commission, as advocated by the federalist school of thought, the reinforcement of the Commission's role appears to confirm the validity of the parallel, or cooperative federalist, analytical paradigm with respect to the growth of the Community system.

Increasingly, within the Community framework, there has been a tendency toward Commission involvement in a growing number of the EC system's activities. The parallel approach within the Community permits the full participation of the Commission alongside that of the member states in a complementary and supportive capacity,both within the EC, and in the Community's interaction with other actors in the global system.

Manifestations of the enhancement in the status of the Commission through concerted Community activity are evident in progressions such as its full involvement in European Council meetings from the mid-1970s, and its inclusion in the 'intergovernmental' EPC framework, confirmed in the London Report of 1981, and reinforced by the Stuttgart Solemn declaration of 1983. This embellishment of the Commission's internal function has, in turn, been reflected clearly in the Commission's increased role in the international arena, particularly as a permanent member of the Economic Summit group. The Commission President was admitted to some summit sessions at London in 1977; in 1978, his competence was extended to all economic and monetary discussions; in 1981, the Commission was finally admitted to participate in political debates as well.

Most recently, this process of increased Commission involvement and assimilation into the general functioning of the EC system has given powerful legal endorsement through the Single European Act (SEA), which amends the Rome Treaty in key areas by extending Community competence in the spheres of monetary cooperation, research and technological development, environmental policies, and structural and social policies., and establishes the executive and management powers of the Commission in these domains. These developments have vastly reinforced the Commission's influence in the internal EC system -- as a complementary component to the activities of the member states -- and have furnished a firm foundation for the fortification of the Commission's external role. This is clearly evident in the Commission's recent performance at the Western Economic Summit.

At the head of the EC Commission delegation to the Western Economic Summits is the Commission President, who attends all sessions with the heads of state or government of the seven summit nations. Next, at the ministerial level are the Commissioner responsible for finance and economics who attends the summit working sessions of the finance ministers, and the Commissioner charged with the external relations portfolio, who attends the foreign ministers' working sessions. These three officials are all present at the plenary session on the concluding day of the western summit proceedings.

Press conferences are given by each Commissioner, who individually covers his/her own particular issue areas, and give his/her accounts of the debates which transpired in their own closed meetings with his/her summit counterparts. In addition, depending upon the level of technicality and detail required, press conferences can also be delivered by the heads or spokes people of the Directorates-General; this was the case at the 1989 Paris Summit in the domain of the environment,where L. von Brinkhorst gave the official EC environment briefing to the international media. Similarly, the Director-General for economics and finance delivered an exceedingly detailed and informative briefing at the Paris Summit. It is these heads of the technical,expert bureaucratic support systems of the Commission -- the Directorates General (or DG's) -- which possess sufficient knowledge and capability to discuss Community policy and intention with the international press.

The Economic Summit substantially boosts the public exposure of the President of the Commission, with important ramifications for his image and role. Technically, the Commission President acts only as spokesperson for the entire collegial EC Commission. However, the public and press exposure which the President of the Commission receives tends to render his personality 'primus inter pares' , that is, he appears to fill a more prominent and powerful position than his Commissioner colleagues. Media coverage of the Commission President's actions and positions at the summit table heightens the visibility and prestige of the EC Commission and of the entire Community system in the eyes of the world; unfortunately, the general public is unaware of the intricacies of the EC's institutional setup and is not particularly aware of the nature of the Commission's role and its competences within the Community. Therefore, when President Delors, for example, is present in one of the numerous photography sessions throughout the three days of the summit alongside the seven political heads of the most powerful industrialised democracies,and this picture is included on the front page of newspapers around the globe, his symbolic status as a "political leader" is significantly enhanced worldwide.

Thus, at the summits themselves, the role of the President of the Commission has grown to parallel -- to complement and not to replace -- the roles of the leaders of the Big Four regular European participants, confirming the precepts and predictions of 'cooperative federalism' or parallelism in the EC system:

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