Stanley's blog

EU gets its timing wrong

The process to appoint the triumvirate of European Council President, Commission President and Foreign Policy Chief/Commission Vice-President is complicated enough with timing problems.

Assuming that the Lisbon Treaty will be ratified and come into force on 1 January 2009, the European Council President and the Foreign Policy Chief will need to be agreed this year – at the latest during the French Presidency Summit in December, but it is highly desirable that the appointments be made at the September European Council meeting.

The identity of the former is unknown at this stage but it is to be expected that Xavier Solana will be re-appointed until 31 October 2009 He will become Vice-President of the Commission which will be a complication in the short term. The capable Spanish Financial & Monetary Affairs Commissioner, Joaquin Almunia, will have to resign and his very important portfolio given to another Commissioner. External Affairs Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner will presumably lose her portfolio. This is why it has been suggested that the ratification be delayed so that there is only one reshuffle to take effect on 1 November 2008. If this were deliberately done, it would be against the spirit of the new treaty and possibly infringe community law.

The Elections to Parliament will take place in June 2009, the precise dates not having been decided (in 2004 these were 10-13 June). The first session will be held in July, at which its President will be appointed.

The European Council nominated José Manuel Barroso on 29 June 2004. Under the new treaty, the European Council must take into account the elections to the European Parliament (whatever that means) and its nomination requires the consent of Parliament. Council won’t want its candidate to be rejected and will wish therefore to consult Parliament. (see blog of 17 February)

Parliament will not, however, have a President or governing structure in place before its July session. It seems too much to hope for Parliament also consenting to the new Commission President in July. This will delay the nomination of the Commissioners, who have to face Parliamentary hearings and approval, before taking up office on 1 November.

The new treaty assumes that the Commission appointment will be a political one. However, with the President of the European Council clearly political, it can be argued that harmony and efficiency at the top would be strengthened by the President in fact being a technocrat. An obvious and well qualified candidate would then be Peter Sutherland, who was a successful Commissioner.

The Foreign Policy Chief will presumably be appointed at the same time as the Commission President. His nomination is by qualified majority of the European Council and with the approval of the President of the Commission. However, as Commission Vice-President he will have to go through he same Parliamentary process as his colleagues, and will, no doubt, be placed under special scrutiny.

Some conclusions:

• The political affiliation and nationality of the European Council President will inevitably be relevant in the negotiations for the other two top posts.
• The election of the President of Parliament will also come into the political machinations.
• It will require a firm, coordinated effort to get all the appointments in place to enable the Commission to start operating effectively from 1 November.
• Avoiding expressing any opinion on merits, a possible deal is Jean-Claude Juncker, EPP, Luxembourg, (European Council President), Peter Sutherland, EPP, but technocrat, Ireland (European Commission President) and Javier Solana, Socialist, Spain (Foreign Policy Chief).
• The President of Parliament might then be from the ALDE. However, it may be time for the Presidency to be given to a new Member State.
• There is good argument to retain Barroso, who has gained the trust of the Member States (although some would say “too much”) but is likely to be a stronger President in his second term.

Finally, betting on the next Commission Presidency is inadvisable. In February 2004, Barroso was not even on the longest shortlist.

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