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European Commission

INTRODUCTION

A protocol on the institutions with the prospect of enlargement has been annexed to the EU Treaty and to the Treaties establishing the European Communities. It lays down a number of institutional conditions that will have to be met at the next enlargement and provides for another Intergovernmental Conference to be convened before the membership of the European Union exceeds twenty. The present structure is the legacy of an organisation designed for six Member States and although it has been adjusted to take account of the accession of new members, it still operates today on the same institutional principles.

Consequently the European Commission is faced with various questions concerning in particular its composition, the role of its President and its democratic legitimacy. The Amsterdam Treaty attempts to answer the questions by pursuing the objective of strengthening the institution of which the main role is to represent the general interests of the Union completely independently.

The new Treaty changes the procedure for confirming the Commission to consolidate its legitimacy along the lines etched out by the Maastricht Treaty. As for the optimum size of the Commission, the Protocol on the institutions has tied this issue to reweighting the votes in the Council.

In addition, in a Declaration to the Final Act, the Intergovernmental Conference called on the Commission to submit to the Council, by the end of 1998, a proposal to amend the procedures for the exercise of implementing powers conferred on the Commission (comitology).

COMPOSITION

The composition of the Commission is closely connected to the question of collective responsibility.

This is a distinctive feature of the structure of the Commission and means that decisions adopted by the Commission reflect the views of the full body, rather than the views of individual members. With enlargement, it is feared that a significant increase in the number of Commissioners might increase their responsiveness to national considerations to the detriment of collective responsibility. On the other hand, limiting the number of members is a delicate issue since it would mean that not all nationalities would be represented.

In response to this problem, the Protocol on the institutions provides that at the next enlargement of the Union the Commission will comprise one national of each Member State, provided that by that date the weighting of the votes in the Council has been modified in a manner acceptable to all Member States. The idea is to revise the scale of weightings so that the relative weight of small and medium-sized countries is not disproportionate to the size of the population.

PRESIDENCY

The role of the President of the Commission is to ensure its unity and effectiveness. The Amsterdam Treaty seeks to strengthen the President's position in exercising his function.

The amendment to Article 214 (ex Article 158) strengthens the legitimacy of the President by submitting his nomination for approval by the European Parliament. Under the new provisions, the Members of the Commission are now nominated by common accord with the President, rather than simply after consulting him. Article 217 (ex Article 163) also promotes closer coordination between the Members of the Commission by providing that they "will work under the political guidance of its President".

Declaration 32 to the Amsterdam Treaty will also have the effect of strengthening the President's role by providing that he will enjoy broad discretion in the allocation of tasks within the Commission, as well as in any reshuffling of those tasks during a Commission's term of office. The Declaration goes on to note the Commission's intention to undertake in parallel a corresponding reorganisation of its departments, and in particular the desirability of bringing external relations under the responsibility of a Vice-President in the interests of consistency.

RIGHT OF INITIATIVE

The Commission's right of initiative has been strengthened in three ways:

  • new provisions will be incorporated in the Treaty establishing the European Community (employment, social affairs, etc.);
  • after a transitional period of five years when the right of initiative is shared with the Member States, questions previously covered by Title VI procedures (asylum, immigration, judicial cooperation in civil matters) will come under the Community and the sole right of initiative will pass to the Commission;
  • in areas under the third pillar (police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters) the Commission will acquire a shared right of initiative with the Member States.
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