Viviane Reding (information society), Louis Michel (humanitarian aid), Janez Potočnik (research), Danuta Hübner (regional policy) and Ján Figel' (education) have already informed Commission President José Manuel Barroso of their intention to return to their home countries to campaign for the European Parliament elections, a top official said.
The college has already started looking at ways to redistribute portfolios during their abscence, added the source, who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
As a consequence, the EU executive is gearing up for another wave of musical chairs, in a repetition of what happened last May, when Justice Commissioner Franco Frattini quit the Commission to campaign for the general elections in Italy and later joined Silvio Berlusconi's government as foreign minister.
At the time, France and Italy agreed to swap portfolios. Jacques Barrot took over the justice dossier, while the Italian substitute, Antonio Tajani, was put in charge of transport.
To engage in political campaigns, the commissioners might decide to leave just "two days before the elections," the official said. But it appears unlikely that they will wait until the last minute, he argued. A more probable scenario is that the commissioners will leave as soon as the European Parliament shuts down for electoral recess on 7 May.
According to the Commission's internal code of conduct, members of the college need to inform the president of their intention to participate in an election campaign and the role they expect to play in that campaign. The president, taking into account the particular circumstances of the case, shall decide on whether the envisaged participation in the election campaign is compatible with the performance of the commissioner's duties.
Johannes Leitenberger, a Commission spokesperson, explained that commissioners are not asked to step down for merely putting their name on a party list. However, they must leave if they plan to lead active campaigns, he said.
Since November 2004, when the present Commission led by President Barroso took office, three other commissioners have handed over their portfolios before the end of their terms: Peter Mandelson (trade), Franco Frattini (justice) and Markos Kyprianou (health).
Over the years, other commissioners have joined the ranks of the European Parliament, namely Italian Emma Bonino and Belgian Philippe Busquin.
Analysts say the next Parliament will show an increase in the number of well-known politicians and boost the image of the European Union. In an attempt to boost the profile of the French contingent in the EU assembly, President Nicolas Sarkozy has urged Michel Barnier and Rachida Dati, two French ministers, to lead Paris candidate lists for the European elections.
Following the publication of the article, Catherine Ray, spokesperson for Commissioner Potočnik, said "the Commissioner has not announced his intention to run for the European Parliament elections. This information is wrong. Commissioner Potočnik's prime interest would be to stay in the Commission".
Meanwhile, Commissioner Figel's spokesperson, John Macdonald, informed EurActiv that "Commissioner Figel' will not be running for the European elections".