MEPs set scene for EU top jobs battle
By Honor Mahony
With 100 days to go until the EU elections, MEPs have agreed a wishlist on how the next European Commission and its President should be chosen.
The report, passed by the European Parliament's constitutional affairs committee on Tuesday (11 February) and due in plenary next month, calls on governments to clarify how they will "honour" the EU citizens' vote when they put forward a commission President candidate.
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The issue is at the heart of a power struggle between member states and MEPs.
Several MEPs believe the top candidate put forward by the most popular political party should automatically get the post. But governments are generally keener to see the vote as indicative only.
The treaty itself says merely that the election result should be “taken into account.”
Meanwhile, the finer details on how the two camps should go about choosing the candidate leaves room for institutional gridlock: They require that both sides "consult" on how to pick the candidate.
MEPs in the new report ask member states to "clarify" how these consultations should look well before the 22-25 May election.
Deputies also want any commission President candidate to put forward a political programme and to be grilled by MEPs. Only then should their candidacy be put to vote in the parliament.
MEPs encouraged governments to put forward women candidates for commissioners and allowed the future president full autonomy to turn down a nominee.
Deputies are further seeking to influence the nomination process by saying that several commissioners should be chosen from their own ranks.
"As many members of the next commission as possible [should be] chosen from among elected Members of the European Parliament," says Tuesday’s report.
Portuguese Paulo Rangel, the centre-right author of the own-initative text, says the wishlist will "strengthen the democratic legitimacy of the European Commission."
His report also takes aim at the unwieldy size of the commission. It suggests that each of the 28 commissioners having their own portfolio - as is currently the case - is no longer viable.
Instead there should be "commissioners without portfolio" or a system of vice-presidents responsible for "thematic clusters."
Anticipating future EU treaty change, the Rangel report says the parliament should battle for the right of legislative initiative and make it easier to censure the European Commission.
The report is not legally binding. However, it gives an indication of the role parliament would like to play in negotiations on the next European Commission.
MEPs have also in the past shown themselves to be adept at expanding their powers in this area - winning the de facto right to reject single commissioner candidates.
Jose Manuel Barroso, the current commission President, was only elected for a second term in office in autumn 2009 after a months-long power struggle between member states and MEPs.