Inept for leadership

Commission President Juncker’s “State of the Union Adress”, held before the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week, apparently was not a great success, judging by media reports describing it as “dull” and “insipid”. Yet there was one passage that definitely caught our attention.

It runs thus:

“Being political also means correcting technocratic mistakes immediately when they happen. The Commission, the Parliament and the Council have jointly decided to abolish mobile roaming charges. This is a promise we will deliver. Not just for business travellers who go abroad for two days. Not only for the holiday maker who spends two weeks in the sun. But for our cross-border workers. And for the millions of Erasmus students who spend their studies abroad for one or two semesters. I have therefore withdrawn a draft that a well-meaning official designed over the summer. The draft was not technically wrong. But it missed the point of what was promised. And you will see a new, better draft as of next week. When you roam, it should be like at home.”

It remains an open question whether the abolition of mobile roaming charges is really good news for everyone. Roaming does create extra costs, and if companies cannot put an extra charge on it, they will have to increase their domestic charges in order to continue making profit. In the end, this is going to be a measure that benefits those who frequently travel abroad – at the expense of those who do not spend much of their time travelling. No wonder that Commissioners and MEPs find this project so important – but are ordinary citizens going to be equally enthusiastic??

However, what makes this passage so remarkable is that it reveals Mr. Juncker’s complete and irredeemable ineptitude for the job he is occupying.

Leadership means to assume responsibility, not to blame one’s subordinates for one’s own errors. Is anyone really going to believe that one “well-meaning official” (- note the patronizing tone in this poisonous compliment! -) has on its own initiative designed a legislative draft, and got it adopted as an official Commission Proposal, without President Juncker and the entire College of Commissioners being aware of it?????

In the Commission, like in any other comparable structure, officials will draft new legislation only when being ordered to do so by their political masters – in this case the competent Commissioner and/or his Cabinet. And each new proposal is drafted under the close supervision of the responsible Commissioner’s cabinet and requires the consultation of the Secretariat General, the Legal Service, and all Directorates General that may hold a stake in it. Finally it is adopted by a vote in the Commission, which is presided over by… Jean-Claude Juncker.

Now it may well be that Mr. Juncker and his fellow Commissioners are not always aware of all the details of the legislative proposals they are adopting. But as Commissioners, they are responsible – they and nobody else.

A Commission President who puts all the blame for a legislative proposal that, for one reason or another, draws criticism from the public on one of his subordinates just shows one thing: that he is unfit for leadership.

It is a tragedy that the EU in the moment of its greatest crisis is run by figures such as this.