Let us start by discussing the very basic role of each of the institutions. It is the job of the Council to represent the interests of the states. The European Parliament is there to represent the people. The European Commission – the executive branch – should hence be tasked with carrying out the instructions of the other institutions, and should be accountable to both of them. This should be the dominant rationale when talking about the future of the European Commission from a federalist perspective.
So how should the composition of the European Commission look?
As a starting point, the current status quo must be resoundingly rejected: the Commission currently contains one member for each Member State, but this is indefensible for two reasons: firstly, because the European Commission is not meant to reflect states’ interests, and secondly, as the EU enlarges so the Commission becomes large and unwieldy with insufficient portfolios to share around.
The construction of a system to replace the current one must start with the Commission President. As federalists have long argued, the selection of the head of the Commission must be dependent on the outcome of the European Parliament elections – i.e. he or she must come from the largest fraction in the Parliament.
It must then be the task of the Commission President to allocate portfolios to Commissioners, on the basis of candidates nominated from the European Parliament and the Member States. The total number of portfolios should be determined according to the policy areas that the EU is engaged in, not according to the number of Member States. Nationality requirements should be in place so as to prevent the domination of the Commission by nationals of one Member State; the stipulation of no more than 2 Commissioners of the same nationality would meet that requirement. In addition the means of control from the European Parliament over the Commission would need to be radically improved, with the opportunity for the European Parliament to sanction the removal from office of individual Commissioners.
So what would this mean in practice?
It’s inconceivable in practice that the Commission would not contain a German (or even a British or French) national, but by vesting the power in the Commission President to choose Commissioners, the chance that a competent team could be chosen would be improved.
So this is – in short – what federalists should be asking for.
But what might we get in the short- to medium-term? In purely practical terms a smaller Commission is vital for the sake of efficiency of working.
The federalist demands in this context should be three-fold. Firstly, any immediate reform must not introduce additional or arbitrary nationality requirements (such as the 2/3 rotation idea). Secondly, the general competence of the Commissioners should be stressed, and deputy / lesser portfolios for Commissioners from smaller Member States should be rejected as a result – a competent Commissioner from a small member state is better than a loose cannon from the largest member state. Thirdly, the accountability link between Parliament and Commission should be strengthened, especially in the run-up to the 2009 European elections.