in the Resignation of the Santer Commission
The twin issues of accountability and democratic deficit are a topical and recurrent element of debates on the European Union (EU). Analysis of EU affairs is often underscored by a perception of the EU and its institutions as an inefficient bureaucracy that lacks sufficient democratic checks and balances and that has resulted in a “disconnection” between EU institutions and its citizens.1
As the only democratically elected EU institution, the European Parliament (EP) is perhaps best suited to addressing issues related to the EU’s accountability, mismanagement, and alleged democratic deficit. This case study will therefore focus on a 1999 landmark of EU history: the European Parliament’s role in the resignation of the European Union executive, the European Commission. The study illustrates the EP’s effectiveness in taking advantage of its democratic mandate and enforcing, among other things, its powers of oversight. The resulting crisis became a catalyst for institutional reform, an overhaul of financial and personnel management, and increased accountability in the European Commission.2
This case study will set the scene by describing the institutional responsibilities of the Commission and the European Parliament. It will then analyze the role played by Parliament in the Commission’s dismissal and its implications. Finally, it will discuss what conclusions can be drawn from the event.
and the European Parliament
The institutional actors of the EU—the Parliament, the Commission, the Council of the EU, the Court of Auditors, and the Court of Justice—have an interdependent relationship that comes to the fore in the context of legislative procedures. However, for the purposes of this case study, we will narrow our focus to the two main institutions involved in the dismissal of the Commission.3
1 House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, Democracy and Accountability in the EU and the Role of National Parliaments, Thirty-third Report of Session 2001–2, HC 152-xxxiii-I, pp. 13–15.
2 Hereafter, also referred to as the “Commission/’
3 The Council shares legislative powers with the EP; it comprises ministers representing their respective Member States and has a rotating presidency. The European Court of Justice ensures the uniform application and interpretation of EU law. The European Court of Auditors examines the accounts of the EU’s revenue and expenditure and checks that the EU budget has been managed soundly.