27th Jan 2022

Irish No raises questions over EU commission size

  • The commission's HQ in Brussels - how many commissioners will it be home to in 2009? (Photo: EUobserver)

Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty has left EU diplomats scratching their heads over the size of the next European Commission. Under current rules, the number of commissioners in the bloc's executive should be capped but it is unclear how.

Diplomats from some member states were already on alert on Friday (13 June) following early reports of a possible Irish No, and discussed the most obvious impact for the institutional set-up of the 27-strong Union if the treaty is delayed or shelved.

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"It turned out that the biggest question mark is over the number of commissioners as there should soon be a cut in their number but it is not stated specifically down to which number," one diplomat told EUobserver, referring to the appointment of the next commission, due in the autumn of 2009.

He added that along with his colleagues from other countries, they concluded there is no other legal way to change this provision apart from a normal treaty review that all the member states must approve and ratify, just like the Lisbon Treaty.

At the moment, every country has one national in the EU executive, with the five biggest states - Germany, France, the UK, Italy and Spain - having given up their second commissioner in 2005 in a move to boost efficiency in the enlarged club.

Ironically, the issue of Ireland losing a commissioner due to changes included in the Lisbon Treaty featured high among the arguments of the No campaigners, who had been claiming the document would shift the distribution of powers in favour of bigger countries.

But while the new treaty would have meant that from 2014 each member state would be without a commissioner for five years in any fifteen year cycle. Under the Nice Treaty, which is in effect now, a reduction in size of the commission must be made next year.

The Nice rules state that if the number of member states reaches 27, the number of commissioners appointed in the subsequent commission would be reduced by the Council [representing member states] to below 27.

"As the actual number of the reduced commission is not specified in the Nice Treaty, several diplomats said it would probably still be 18, representing two thirds of the member states, as is foreseen by the Lisbon Treaty," the diplomat said.

As regards the future composition of the European Parliament, set to be elected in June 2009, while the Lisbon Treaty suggested its permanent reduction to 750 deputies plus the assembly's president, under the Nice Treaty, the number of deputies would be reduced to 736.

The delay or possible complete shelving of the Lisbon Treaty would also mean the end of the adopted rule that the maximum number of MEPs from each member state would be reduced from 99 to 96 (which applies to Germany) and the minimal number boosted from 5 to 6 (applying to Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Malta).

The implications of the Irish No will be discussed today (16 June) when EU foreign ministers gather in Luxembourg.

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