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The European Commission

INTRODUCTION

The size and composition of the European Commission are issues which were not resolved in the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) that culminated in the drafting of the Treaty of Amsterdam. A protocol on the institutions with the prospect of enlargement of the European Union (EU) was included in an Annex to the Treaties, specifying that, at the date of entry into force of the first EU enlargement, the Commission will comprise only one national of each of the Member States, provided that, by that date, the weighting of the votes in the Council of the European Union has been modified in a manner acceptable to all Member States.

The matter of the Commission's size was at the centre of the negotiations which culminated in the new Treaty, some Member States having a preference for reducing the size of the Commission and others favouring a Commission comprised of one national from each Member State. There was also a debate concerning the need to strengthen the role of the Commission President.

COMPOSITION

Article 213 of the Treaty establishing the European Community (EC Treaty) currently stipulates that the Commission must include at least one national of each of the Member States, but may not include more than two Members having the nationality of the same State. The current Commission, in a Union of 15 Member States, consists of twenty Members, including one national each from ten Member States and two nationals each from the five remaining Member States. The Treaty of Nice provides for this arrangement to be amended in two phases.

Article 4 of the Protocol on the enlargement of the European Union, annexed to the Treaty of Nice, specifies that as of 1 January 2005 the Commission shall include only one national of each of the Member States. The Treaty of Accession, signed in Athens on 16 April 2003, amended this provision because the new Commission will take up its duties on 1 November 2004 and will include, as stipulated, one national of each Member State.

The Protocol on enlargement also provides that, when the EU consists of 27 Member States, the number of Members of the Commission shall be less than the number of Member States. The exact number of Members of the Commission is to be set by the Council, acting unanimously, and Members will be chosen according to a rotation system based on the principle of equality, the implementing arrangements for which are to be adopted by the Council, acting unanimously and in accordance with the following principles:

  • Member States shall be treated on a strictly equal footing as regards determination of the sequence of, and the time spent by, their nationals as Members of the Commission; under no circumstances may the Commission include two Members of the same nationality;
  • each successive college shall be so composed as to reflect satisfactorily the demographic and geographical range of all the Member States of the Union.

This rotation system will apply as from the date on which the first Commission following the date of accession of the 27th Member State of the Union takes up its duties (i.e. in principle as of November 2009). In other words, the Commission which will take up its duties in 2004 will therefore be extended to include one national of each country which has joined the Union by that time.

APPOINTMENT PROCEDURES

Before the Treaty of Nice entered into force, the Commission was appointed by the governments of the Member States by common accord. The Treaty of Nice introduced qualified majority decision-making, which is a significant step forward. The President of the Commission is therefore appointed in accordance with a new procedure described in Article 214. The Council, meeting in the composition of Heads of State or Government and acting by a qualified majority, nominates the person it intends to appoint as President of the Commission. The nomination must then be approved by the European Parliament.

The Member States draw up a list of the other persons whom it intends to appoint as Members of the Commission, and the Council, acting by a qualified majority and by common accord with the nominee for President, adopts this list. The College is then subject as a body to a vote of approval by the European Parliament. After approval by Parliament, the President and the other Members of the Commission are formally appointed by the Council, acting by a qualified majority.

Article 215 was amended to take account of the introduction of qualified majority decisions in the appointment procedure. This article now also specifies the circumstances in which Members of the Commission cease to hold office, i.e. resignation, compulsory retirement or death. Save in the case of compulsory retirement, Members of the Commission remain in office until the Council has appointed a replacement or decided that the vacancy need not be filled.

ROLE OF THE PRESIDENT

Following the entry into force of the Amsterdam Treaty, the College as a whole works under the political guidance of the President. The new Article 217 of the Treaty of Nice further strengthens the role of the President.

It is now up to the President to decide on the internal organisation of the Commission in order to ensure that it acts consistently, efficiently and on the basis of collegiality. The principle of collective accountability is thus formally included in the Treaties for the first time.

The President allocates responsibilities to the Members of the Commission and may reshuffle the allocation of those responsibilities during the Commission's term of office. The President appoints the Vice-Presidents after obtaining the approval of the College. A Member of the Commission must resign if the President so requests, after obtaining the approval of the College.

SUMMARY TABLE

ArticlesSubject
EC Treaty213Composition of the Commission.
214Appointment of the President of the Commission and the Members of the Commission.
215Replacement of a Member of the Commission (death, resignation or compulsory retirement)
217Role of the President, allocation of responsibilities, Vice-Presidents, collegiality.
Treaty of Nice - ProtocolProtocol on the enlargement of the European Union: Article 4: Provisions concerning the Commission
Treaty of AccessionArticle 45 of the Act of Accession
Last updated: 20.02.2008
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