December 18, 2012
The Lisbon Treaty contains an important provision for a leaner Executive. According to Article 17 the number of Commissioners will be reduced to two thirds of the number of Member States, as of 1st November 2014, i.e. to 18 instead of 28, unless the European Council unanimously decides otherwise.
That is what the European Council has done, even before the entry into force of the Treaty, in December 2008, in order to placate the Irish prime minister’s concern to lose the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
At its meeting of 11. and 12.December 2008 the European Council has, indeed, agreed that “a Decision will be taken, in accord with the necessary legal procedures, to the effect that the Commission shall continue to include one national of each Member State.”
On 2 October 2012, the European Council has formalised its 2008 agreement. In a hardly noticed Decision, it has ruled that the number of Commission members will be reduced at the earliest in November 2019 or when EU membership will have reached 30 countries.
The European Council will review the functioning of a Commission with 28 Members, sufficiently ahead of the 2019-24 Commission.
If it had wanted, it would have had plenty of time since 2009 to review the effectiveness of the functioning of a 27 member Commission, and most probably have concluded that, despite its size, it has functioned fairly effectively, ignoring higher administrative costs, caused by more fragmentation, internal coordination, staff and newly created functions.
Member States, whether big or small, simply do not like the idea of a Commission, in which they will no longer be “represented”even if only temporarily. The Irish referendum therefore served as a welcome pretext for not implementing Article 17 of the Treaty on the European Union.
The situation will be no different in 2019. On the contrary, with a more “powerful” Commission all Member States will continue to insist on having a Commissioner of their nationality.Realistically, we should therefore not expect Member States to ever renounce having one of their nationals as a Member of the European Commission, which might allow them to influence “undesirable” Commission initiatives before they see the light of the day.
European citizens will therefore most likely have to put up with a Commission of some 35 members by 2030 when the enlargement process may finally be completed.
This will not be the end of the world, as long as the European Parliament and the Council work effectively and democratically. After all, the Commission does no more than proposing legislation and seeing to its implementation. That is why European citizens need not be shocked by its size and bias in favour of small Member States “represented” by 30 of the 35 Commissioners, provided the higher staff echelons fully reflect the demographic balance of the Union.
Eberhard Rhein, Brussels.