31st Oct 2020

Small EU states do not need full commissioners, Verheugen says

European Commission vice-president Guenter Verheugen has questioned the need for small EU countries to have their own member of the European Commission, as part of far-reaching proposals to reform the EU executive.

Mr Verheugen, Germany's commissioner for industry, suggested on German ZDF television on Wednesday (3 January) small member states could have deputy rather than fully-fledged members of a future revamped EU commission.

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"A small member state would benefit more from providing a deputy commissioner in an important area than from providing a commissioner dealing with a marginal area," he said. "We need an efficient, small and highly competent commission."

The commissioner said he made the proposals as part of a re-emerging debate on a possible revival of the shelved EU constitution, which also seeks to boost the efficiency of the commission by reducing its size.

The constitution however treats small and big member states equally, by introducing a system of equal rotation for a limited number of commission seats – capped at two thirds of EU member countries.

By proposing "deputy" posts for small member states instead, Mr Verheugen is likely to stir anger among these members – like Belgium, Luxembourg, Slovakia and Hungary - which had fought hard to get the equal rotation principle in the constitution text.

Elected commission president

Mr Verheugen's apparent readiness to open up some institutional parts of the constitution also points to differences of thinking within the commission itself, with communication commissioner Margot Wallstrom last autumn warning against tinkering "carefully negotiated deals" in the text.

In the ZDF interview, the German commissioner also tabled other proposals for a reformed commission which go beyond what is in the constitution.

Under Mr Verheugen's plans, the president of the commission should be elected by the European Parliament – instead of being picked by national governments – and he or she should thereafter appoint his or her own commissioners (in the constitution this is still a matter for national capitals.)

"I see it as self-evident that the [EU] executive should originate from elections," he stated referring to Europe's democratic traditions.

He said an elected commission chief "must find the right people for the tasks that are there."

"An elected commission president will be intelligent enough to make sure that there is a political and geographic balance," the commissioner added.

Mr Verheugen's designs bear stark resemblance to proposals tabled by French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy last year.

Mr Sarkozy also proposed that the commission president be elected by MEPs, giving him a democratic mandate to pick his own team members.

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