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The European Commission

INTRODUCTION

The Treaty of Lisbon reaffirms the essential functions of the Commission concerning its right of initiative, its executive functions and its duties of inspection and representation. Some of the changes made relate more specifically to the composition of the Commission. The creation of the post of High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is one of the main innovations. In addition, the Treaty of Lisbon endeavours to provide a satisfactory answer to the question of the number of Commissioners, which was long discussed in the context of the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice. Finally, following on from the earlier amending treaties, the role and powers of the President have been strengthened.

COMPOSITION

The first Commission, appointed in accordance with the Treaty of Lisbon in 2009, is composed of one Commissioner for each Member State. However, as from 2014, the Treaty of Lisbon provides that the number of Commissioners making up the Commission will be smaller than the number of Member States. The members of the Commission will be chosen on the basis of a rotation system founded on the principle of equality, the rules of which will be adopted by the European Council acting unanimously and in accordance with the following principles:

  • the number of Commissioners should be equal to two thirds of the number of Member States;
  • Member States should be treated equally in terms of order of rotation and the length of time spent by their nationals as members of the College of Commissioners. Under no circumstances may two persons of the same nationality be members of the Commission at the same time;
  • each successive College of Commissioners must be constituted in a manner which best reflects the demographic and geographic diversity of all Member States of the EU.

This rotation system is the basic rule enshrined in the Treaty on European Union. However, the Treaty provides for an exception in that the European Council, acting unanimously, may decide to change the number of Commissioners. This option has already been taken up. To facilitate the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council of 11 and 12 December 2008 (FR ) allowed for the adoption of a decision enabling the Commission to continue to include a national from each Member State after 2014.

The Treaty of Lisbon also creates a new position within the Commission: the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The latter replaces both the Commissioner responsible for foreign relations and the senior official for foreign policy and common security. The role of the High Representative is to conduct the Union’s foreign policy. The High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy chairs the Foreign Affairs Council but is also one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission. The High Representative is appointed by the European Council acting by a qualified majority with the agreement of the President of the Commission and is also subject, together with the President and the other members of the Commission, to a vote of approval by the European Parliament.

APPOINTMENT PROCEDURES

The way in which the President of the Commission is appointed has not changed. The President is nominated by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, then approved by the European Parliament. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Lisbon is breaking new ground by introducing a direct link between the results of elections to the European Parliament and the choice of candidate for the Presidency of the Commission. From now on, the European Council must take account of the results in the Parliament when nominating the person it intends to appoint as President of the Commission. This change increases the weight carried by the Parliament in appointing the President and therefore raises the political stakes associated with European elections.

By common agreement with the elected President, the Commission then adopts the list of persons which it proposes to appoint as members of the Commission, with the exception of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The members of the Commission are chosen for their general competence and their independence. The Treaty of Lisbon adds a new criterion in terms of their commitment to Europe.

ROLE OF THE PRESIDENT

The Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice greatly increased the powers of the President of the Commission. The latter must define the College of Commissioners’ political guidelines but also determine its internal organisation. The President therefore assigns duties to the various Commissioners and may reallocate responsibilities during the President’s term of office. The President appoints the Vice-Presidents from among the members of the Commission, with the exception of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, the President may also ask a Commissioner to resign without having to seek the Commission’s approval.

SUMMARY TABLE

ArticlesSubject

Treaty on European Union

17

Role and composition of the Commission; appointment and powers of the President of the Commission

18

Appointment and powers of the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

244 to 250

Functioning of the Commission

Last updated: 22.12.2009
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