29th Sep 2021

Irish Presidency to tackle tricky institutional questions

The Irish EU Presidency is hoping to tackle one of the most controversial institutional issues in the European Constitution at a meeting of foreign ministers later this month.

They are set to table a proposal on the number of commissioners in the European Commission - an issue over which large and small member states have been wrangling since the Constitution was drawn up.

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While the Presidency is said not to have a fixed proposal in mind, sources say they are toying with suggesting that 18 commissioners have voting rights in the new Commission.

This would mean that one third of member states would not have a commissioner with voting rights.

Another option is to simply propose that two-thirds of the Commission will have voting rights - without specifying the number - as the number of member states is set to grow from 25 to possibly 30 member states in the future.

At the moment, the draft Constitution suggests that 15 commissioners, including the commission president and vice-president, would have voting rights.

The issue of how many commissioners will have a vote is hugely contentious as it risks turning the Brussels executive into a two-tier body - with important and non-important commissioners.

Some countries, such as Austria, have been holding out on this issue and have indicated they will only accept it if a strict principle of equality is applied to the rotation fearing that big countries will always have commissioners with a vote.

Reducing the veto

In the run up to the foreign ministers' meeting on 17 May, the Presidency is also set to make some more proposals on whether the instances where member states can still use their veto can be reduced.

However, the areas where governments can still wield their vetoes - in tax, justice and home affairs and social security - are extremely controversial and there is a strong bastion of member states who do not want to see the veto taken away.

Bickering over budget issues

High-level officials from the 25 member states discussed the Constitution in Dublin yesterday (4 May).

A source said the meeting was "very constructive" but added that the main disagreement was in the area of budgetary issues.

Member states still have to agree whether they, or the European Parliament should have the final say over the EU's purse strings and whether the veto should be kept for the EU's multi-annual budget - also known as the financial perspectives.

Dublin is hoping to clear these and other issues from the table before the June Summit where the biggest question of all - a new voting system for taking decisions in the council of ministers - will be hammered out by EU leaders.

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