The following is an excerpt from the published interview with Jean-Claude Piris. To see the full interview, please click on the link to download the article above or below.
Q: Could you tell us more about the role and functions of the Legal Service of the Council?
The Council is composed of one minister per Member State and adopts legislative and other legal acts. The Council meets in different areas—such as foreign affairs, agriculture and fisheries, justice, and so forth—and of course, it needs lawyers. The European Council (composed of Prime Ministers and Heads of State) meets every three months and decides on the priorities of the EU—the main lines of policies to come. For this it needs a Legal Counsel. So I am doing this job and to help me I have about 300 people, and about half of them are lawyers from all twenty-seven member states. They are divided into directorates, working on external relations, justice and home affairs, economy and finance, agriculture and fisheries, the internal market, and so on and so forth. Half of my staff (150 people) are lawyers specialized in improving the quality of the law—and doing so in all languages. We have twenty-three official languages, and every version has an equal authentic value—so this directorate ensures that the law means the same thing in all languages.
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Q: Please tell us a little bit about your new book, The Lisbon Treaty: Legal and Political Analysis.You argue that the EU is not yet done developing, and that the EU is plagued by major imbalances. What are some of these imbalances that still remain to be tackled, especially after the Lisbon Treaty?
The major imbalance is of course the one the EU is working on now—President Van Rompuy, the Council of Ecofin (the Council of Economic and Financial Affairs) and the European Council—it is the crisis of the Euro and how we will get out of that. The EU is not a state and not a classic international organization, but we work like a state for the Euro—the Euro is managed in a federal way. We have a European Central Bank. That is the “M” (the monetary part of the Economic and Monetary Union), but the economic part (the “E” part), has been left to states. Of course, they have the democratic legitimacy, and they have the link between the voters and the decision-makers who make decisions on fiscal matters, tax matters, budget matters, and so forth. If the member states make mistakes (if they do have huge budget deficits and huge debts), the Euro has problems. That is exactly what happened.
A preliminary and provisional solution has been adopted, which is a provisional mechanism to help with money in case something happens. This mechanism is going to end in 2013 (it was provisional for 3 years). Mrs. Merkel said that she has a lot of difficulties to transform it into a permanent mechanism—political difficulties with the Bundestag, Bundesrat, and important legal difficulties with the German Constitutional Court. She is convinced that she will lose the case—that she will not be able to transform the provisional mechanism into a permanent mechanism because some people think it is against the Treaty. So what she is asking for is a modification of the Treaty in order to allow establishment of this mechanism as a permanent one.
Besides that, the task force presided by Mr. Van Rompuy, composed of all the ministers of Ecofin, and also Mr. [Jean-Claude] Trichet from the Central Bank have reached final conclusions, and the Commission on this basis has proposed six legislative proposals for better economic governance that will be on the table of the Council and the Parliament. Some of them require co-decision while some of them require the simple opinion of the Parliament. We might adopt these proposals in 2011, but there is also that small change in the Treaty necessary for Germany, which will be very difficult to get. So that is one of the imbalances we have and the work is in progress to try and solve it.
We have other imbalances, for example we have not finished the internal market. People think that we have finished the internal market, but that is not true. In the matter of services, for example, we are far from it. But on that we have already a report from Professor [Mario] Monti, President of Bocconi University in Milan, who was a member of the Commission in the past, and now we have a series of fifty Commission proposals to improve the situation.
I think we have other imbalances too. We have not done enough to harmonize tax legislation. That is very difficult because it is subject to unanimity—as a lot of things in the EU are—and now we are twenty-seven countries. We are not six countries anymore or even twelve like when I began—twelve that were very homogenous—now the twenty-seven Member States are very heterogeneous. Interests and needs are completely different. We have very poor countries like Romania and Bulgaria, which are not well advanced in economic terms, social terms, and in protecting the environment. It is very difficult for them (I’m not criticizing them because it is normal that they defend their interests) to accept an increase in the standards—it is impossible. So the Union has a huge impediment to acting in the world as it is today. The world today is globalized, is changing at the speed of light—look at China, and so on—changing faster than ever. So we have to adapt, we have to help our member states to adapt to these changes. Our member states are small—small surface areas, small populations, awful demographic conditions (the proportion between workers and non-workers is going to be worse and worse in the future), more immigration, with lots of problems that we have already and not enough innovation, not enough investment in structural reforms, not enough investment in research and development, not enough productivity improvement, not enough entrepreneurship. On all that the EU can help and improve governance of its member states, so we need the EU. But we need an EU which is able to decide quickly and make more decisions. And in the state we are in, with the rules we have, we are working in a slow manner, and in a non-ambitious manner. We cannot accommodate everybody with “one decision fits all.” A lot of decisions must be taken unanimously. So it takes a long time and we have very low degrees of ambition. So that is what I mean when I say that there are imbalances.
 Jean-Claude Piris, The Lisbon Treaty: A Legal and Political Analysis (2010).
 Strengthening Economic Governance in the EU, Report of the Task Force to the European Council (Oct. 21, 2010), available at http://www.consilium.europa.eu/uedocs/cms_data/docs/pressdata/en/ec/117236.pdf.
 Mario Monti, A New Strategy for the Single Market, Report to the President of the European Commission (M ay 9, 2010), available at http://ec.europa.eu/bepa/pdf/monti_report_final_10_05_2010_en.pdf.