New political territory for caretaker Commission

27.10.04 @ 16:41

  1. By Honor Mahony and Richard Carter

STRASBOURG - The decision to postpone the investiture vote of the new European Commission has opened up a whole legal and political no man's land for the Brussels executive.

While the current Commission under Romano Prodi has agreed to stay on in office until a solution is found, it finds itself in an entirely new constitutional situation.

European Parliament President Josep Borrell has called it "virgin political territory".

Policy consequences

The situation, aside from meaning that current commissioners may not be able to leave as quickly as they would like for any jobs that they have in the waiting, will also have practical consequences for policy.

A legal expert from the Commission said that while the Commission has the legal capability to continue, it will have to take its decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Important areas such as competition will be affected - with deadlines for decisions on competition and merger and acquisition cases having to be dealt with as the situation arises.

It is also unclear whether current Commissioners or high-level officials will be able to take part in any public meetings over the next few weeks.

And while the Commission's various units will continue to work on different dossiers, it is not expected that they will take political decisions.

Meanwhile, the cabinets of the current Commissioners have been draining in anticipation of the new Commission starting on 1 November - something that Mr Prodi joked about yesterday by saying "all my Cabinets are empty".

"There are many practical questions we have to deal with now", said Commission spokesperson Reijo Kemppinen, adding that he too was expecting to start a new job on Monday (1 November).

Bigger questions

Wednesday's non vote also means that the European Union will be without an executive just as it was hoping to get really started again.

The EU has been running on a low-key basis since the June parliament elections and since the current Commission started to wind down before the summer.

The big questions that have to start being dealt with in earnest include the EU's multi-annual budget, its economic agenda, its new justice and home affairs programme and Turkey's membership of the EU.

"Each day of delay will have negative effects on the economic reform which is urgently needed", warned business group Eurochambres.

Timetable

At the moment, there are different scenarios about how long the caretaker Commission will have to stay in place.

For his part, incoming Commission President José Manuel Durao Barroso, said "I hope to submit my team to the European Parliament in the next few weeks".

The issue is to be discussed by EU leaders at the formal signing ceremony of the European Constitution in Rome on Friday and a new list of names may be agreed upon at the European Summit in Brussels at the end of next week (5 November).

According to some, a new Commission line-up could be put to the vote in the European Parliament on 17 November - during its next planned session.

However, getting member states firstly to agree which Commissioners have to go (six have been criticised), secondly to agree who gets which portfolio, and then putting those new commissioners through parliamentary hearings is likely to take longer than these couple of weeks.

"I hope to see it done this side of Christmas", said Liberal MEP Andrew Duff.