18th Mar 2018

EU needs fewer commissioners, Netherlands says

The European Commission should be slimmed down, with only a handful of commissioners handling the bloc's main portfolios, according to a plan put forward by the Dutch foreign minister.

Speaking with reporters after Monday's (18 November) meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Brussels, Frans Timmermans explained that governments should create a division of a and b-level boards for the EU executive .

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Eight "a-board" members would take the lead on Brussels' biggest portfolios, such as the internal market, economic affairs and justice and home affairs. They would also be solely responsible for initiating new legislation.

Meanwhile, the remaining "b-board members" would take oversight roles and keep their right to vote on new legal proposals.

Timmermans said there are not enough policy areas to justify having 28 commissioners, and that the surplus of politicians leads to duplication of tasks and the creation of unnecessary EU laws.

Small member states, who fear that cutting the size of the commission would lead to the bloc's largest countries getting a monopoly on EU decision-making, are unlikely to support the plan, however.

Supporters of the status quo say that each country having its "own" commissioner enhances the visibility of the EU executive and keeps them in the loop of EU lawmaking.

The prospect of losing its permanent commissioner became a focal point in the "No" campaign in the first Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty in 2008.

The treaty - and the failed EU constitution on which it was based - would have reduced the size of the EU executive to 18, with countries taking turns to have a commissioner.

However, Ireland secured a guarantee that each member state would keep a permanent commissioner before holding a second referendum which said "Yes."

Timmermans' intervention is the latest in a series of recent calls for EU reform.

Last week the Dutch minister also spelt out plans to negotiate a "European Governance Manifesto" featuring a slimmed-down commission, while giving national parliaments more powers to block or amend EU legislation and to summon individual commissioners for hearings.

Like David Cameron's UK government, the Dutch government is also currently undertaking a review on the scope of EU lawmaking, with a view to reducing the number of areas in which Brussels acts.

Both reports are expected to be completed in 2014. The next European Commission is expected to take office next autumn following the European Parliament elections.

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Over the course of hours of crisis talks in Brussels, Ireland found itself under heavy pressure to do something to fix its voters' rejection of the EU's Lisbon Treaty, with the country's prime minister, Brian Cowen, saying that many EU leaders believe there is little room for manouevre. However, Dublin refused to commit to a timetable or say whether it would put the treaty to a second vote.

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