EU leaders are expected to ditch the idea of having fewer Commissioners, recommended by the Treaty, in a June summit that could struggle to find consensus on the distribution of top posts given the “full agenda”, sources told EURACTIV.com
Article 17 (5) of the EU’s treaty says that the European Commission shall include a number of Commissioners corresponding to two-thirds of the number of EU countries. After the UK’s departure, the number should be at least 18 Commissioners, ten fewer than today.
But the treaty adds “…unless the European Council, acting unanimously, decides to alter this number”.
As part of the package agreed with Ireland before its second referendum held in 2009 on the Lisbon Treaty, the EU leaders accepted to keep one Commissioner per country, so Dublin would not lose a chair. Other smaller member states were happy with the agreement.
The European Council agreed in 2013 to review this decision before the forthcoming Commission takes over.
EU leaders will make the decision in their meeting on 20-21 June. But despite what the treaties say and the advantages of having a smaller Commission, they will confirm the status quo.
There is “no appetite” for a smaller Commission, an EU source told EURACTIV.com. The same source expected the decision to be a “formality”, as a majority of member states are “happy” with the current distribution.
Only a few leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, have openly defended a smaller EU executive.
The outgoing Commission did not wholeheartedly support a reduction either.
In a communication published in February last year, Jean-Claude Juncker’s team said that a smaller college “would, in theory, be more efficient in its operation, easier to manage and would allow a more balanced distribution of portfolios among its members”.
But it added that losing member state envoys would affect national representation in Brussels and would hamper a useful communication channel to citizens and national authorities.
Enhance the current system
In order to ensure unity and efficiency with a high number of Commissioners, the Juncker Commission created six vice-presidencies responsible for a cluster of policies.
The outgoing Commission argued that the two-layered structure of vice-presidents and Commissioners “has shown its worth” and said that “could be further enhanced in the future”.
An EU official said that this would be Juncker’s position during the June summit.
But some inside the Commission made the case for a smaller college for the next mandate, including economic affairs chief, Pierre Moscovici.
While no major difficulties are expected in finding an agreement on this issue, it would be more difficult to seal a deal on the high-level appointments for the next mandate, including the presidencies of the Commission, the European Council and the ECB.
EU leaders will gather on 28 May to start discussing potential candidates for the posts.
However, European officials have lowered expectations for this first meeting, saying that the goal will be for the leaders to extend the mandate of European Council President Donald Tusk so he can continue consultations with the capitals and the European People’s Party, expected to be the winner of the EU elections.
If that is the case, EPP lead candidate Manfred Weber would be the first option to become Commission president.
However, European sources said that the leaders ditched the direct link between the European elections’ result and the EU executive’s top post in February 2018.
At least half a dozen countries, including France, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Bulgaria, have already spoken up against the so-called automaticity of the Spitzenkandidat system.
Leaders will have to solve a complex puzzle to pick their new helmsmen and women, taking into account political, gender and geographical balance. That will further complicate the election of the EU’s top posts.
Tusk wants to agree on a whole package in the June summit, he said after the informal meeting in Sibiu, Romania on 9 May.
But EU officials warned that the summit will have a “busy” agenda that could complicate things.
The European Council will also discuss the Multiannual Financial Framework, sanctions on Russia and climate change, where strong divisions remain among the national governments. There will be also a Euro summit, where the divisive budgetary capacity for the eurozone will be discussed.
Enlargement could also be part of the menu, as a dozen countries want to send a positive signal to neighbouring candidates to join the EU. Even migration could come up, due to the favourable conditions for new flows of migrants.
Against this backdrop, European officials explained that a meeting of national government envoys (sherpas) would likely take place on 14 June, although the date was still to be confirmed given that an Ecofin Council is taking place that day in Luxembourg.
In order to save some time, Sweden proposed to start the summit earlier than usual to cope with the full agenda, an official said.
Bulgaria proposed reaching an agreement on the strategic agenda for the next mandate before the summit, in order to leave additional time for the leaders to discuss other issues, including the top posts.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Sam Morgan]