Federalist Letter to the Intergovernmental Conference
Issue number 13, 14 November 2003
A compromise on the Commission may be necessary to maintain momentum in the IGC
Dear Members of the IGC
No-one envies you the task of debating the draft constitution prepared by the Convention in order to finalise the constitutional treaty. After all, the Convention met in public – you meet in secret – and represented a much wider range of opinion and experience in Europe. It would not be democratically appropriate if you were to make any major changes to the text.
Despite this, there are some issues that remain controversial. Perhaps the Italian presidency can help by suggesting some suitable compromises. This would speed the passage of the draft constitution through the IGC and put the final text in front of the European citizens.
One question that the debate in the Convention did not settle satisfactorily is that of the size of the future European Commission. Should it continue to include a member from each member state, as it does at present, or should it be reduced in size to maintain its efficiency as an executive body?
As the Union enlarges, the principle that each member state nominates a Commissioner will lead to an executive far larger than the cabinet in the government of just about every member state. Add to this the fact that many of the most important functions of government in Europe – health, education, social policy, much economics – will remain at the national level and not become European competences, what will all those Commissioners do?
Federalist Letter Number 6 pointed out that the rotation system envisaged in the Convention’s text, giving some Commissioners votes but not others, would enshrine discrimination on grounds of nationality at the heart of the Union’s institutions. That can’t be right, although it was all that the Convention could do in the time allowed.
If the controversy on the size of the Commission is to be overcome, a compromise may well need to be found between those member states that want a streamlined Commission to be more effective and those that want an enlarged Commission to be more representative. Those that want a representative Commission must show that a larger one can still be effective, while supporters of a smaller Commission must have to demonstrate that it can still be representative.
Finding a compromise might be difficult, but it is possible.
The important point to note is that the constitution will not affect the size of the European Commission until 2009. The next Commission, to be elected in 2004, will be chosen under the rules of the Nice treaty and so it will have 25 members, each with a vote. Of course, this is actually the preferred long-term solution of one side in the debate. They do not have to argue that a Commission with one member per state can also be efficient: over the next five years they have a chance to prove it, whatever is agreed in the IGC.
The deal to be struck is therefore clear. The IGC should stick with the size of the Commission agreed at Nice for the time being and review it later on to see if it works. It should be agreed that a new Convention will meet no later than 2008 to decide whether to keep the same system for the elections of 2009 and afterwards or whether the number of Commissioners should be reduced instead.
The UEF has already declared itself in favour of a smaller European Commission. We think it is an error to insist that the Commission must include an individual of each nationality: Commissioners each swear an oath of independence from their member states, after all. For this reason, the size of the Commission is a matter of efficient administration and not of national sovereignty. This debate cannot be allowed to bring the debate in the IGC to a halt.
Our vision of the future European Union also includes a much closer relationship between the Commission and the directly-elected European Parliament. The Commission is independent of member state interests, but should not be independent of the political process or the European citizens. The concerns of each member state – they do exist, they cannot be ignored – can be voiced by its MEPs and national government ministers in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. That is where legislative authority resides, after all.
However, the case for a more efficient Commission has to be proved, not merely assumed.
The proposal outlined here offers a compromise, if one is needed, to settle the issue in the IGC for now. It is not ideal, but a secretive meeting between national governments can never be expected to deliver perfection. What it must do, though, is to maintain the momentum towards a democratic and federal European constitution. Maintaining that momentum is the biggest challenge facing the Italian presidency between now and the end of the year.
This “Federalist Letter” is issued by the Union of European Federalists as part of the “Campaign for a European Federal Constitution”. For further information and support:
UEF – Chaussée de Wavre 214 d B-1050 Brussels, Tel: + 32-2-508.30.30 – Fax : +32-2-626.95.01, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org – Website: www.federaleurope.org With the financial support, but not representing the opinions, of the European Commission.