Opposite Perspectives

The European Commission:
a mirror for national realities

, by Emmanuel Vallens

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

The European Commission: a mirror for national realities

Mr Verheugen’s recent declarations about the size of the Commission once again highlighted the need for far-reaching reform of the EU institutions. Pursuant to the Nice Treaty provisions, “[w]hen the Union consists of 27 Member States, [… t]he number of Members of the Commission shall be less than the number of Member States.”

Or should it?

The EU is already plagued with national interests in the Council and in the European Parliament. Even European Commissioners actually do represent their country of origin in spite of treaty provisions to the contrary. As the EU enlarged without introducing major changes in the Commission’s working methods, especially in the majority voting inside it and with the President being no more than a primus inter pares, the executive slowly turned into a Council bis, unable to work efficiently, with Commissioners aplenty.

Most federalists believe that the way forward lies in the Commission being turned into a genuine government, endowed with the democratic legitimacy and the political coherence that only European elections can provide. In such a framework, competence, not nationality, should be the criterion used for nominating a European Commissioner. Ideally, the European Constitution should not even provide for the actual number of Commissioners: it should be up to the President-designate to decide what size his/her college should be.

The infamous 2000 Nice Intergovernmental conference decided otherwise: the treaty now provides that the number of Commissioners should be lower than that of Member States, but that they “shall be chosen according to a rotation system based on the principle of equality.” This introduces an arbitrary technocratic element in a nationality-based selection procedure.

The EU now ends up with the worst of both worlds – a Commission where not all national traditions are represented but where the nomination of its members remain based on nationality rather than on individual competence or political choice.

Like the previous treaties, Nice is not written into stone and we can still argue the case of a federal Constitution, however much unlikely such an outcome may look like in the near future. But should the new Commission be composed of a national of each Member State?

One should first come to terms with the specific nature of European integration. It is useless and dangerous to plaster an ideal ideology unto a political and historical reality. Whether we like it or not, Europe is hallmarked by its national diversity. In order to build up a supranational polity, a federalist EU may only overcome it, not ignore it.

I therefore think that, if the Commission is to win and retain the trust of citizens, even under the form of a legitimate government, they should be satisfied that all national traditions are represented in it.

Would the presence of at least a national of each Member State impair the Commission’s efficiency? Not necessarily if we introduce a distinction between senior and junior Commissioners. The British Government has about a hundred of members with many Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries of State, but only 23 Cabinet Ministers.

The same could apply to the European Commission, with 27 Commission members or more, and a limited number of college Commissioners. The former could be in charge of specific, not necessarily low-grade, areas. The latter would oversee the job of several Commission members. Only they would have the right to vote in Commission meetings, but all Members could attend and contribute to discussions.

They would therefore be the guarantee that national situations have been duly taken into account before reaching a decision. They would also be the Commission members best able to argue the case of the European government in each country, by explaining it to their fellow citizens, in their own language.

We would thus end up with the best of both worlds: public legitimacy and federalist efficiency. Will both federalists and national governments be clear-sighted enough to achieve it?


 Home of the EU Commission, source: Flickr

This article was originally published in the spring edition of The New Federalist, paper version of the magazine of the Young European Federalists (JEF-Europe).

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