The European Council moved quickly after the European elections to name José Manuel Durão Barroso as the person it intends to appoint as President of the Commission. According to Article 214(2) of the Treaty establishing the European Community (TEC), the nomination shall be approved by the European Parliament.
But the formal nomination of the chastened Barroso will be confirmed later, subject to discussions with the European Parliament.
The nomination has now been placed in the in-tray of the new European Parliament, which convenes to its inaugural session on 14 July 2009. According to the Treaty of Nice, a majority of the votes is enough, but under the Treaty of Lisbon a majority of the component members is required (376).
The Group of the European People’s Party (EPP) cannot secure the approval of Barroso on its own, so it needs support from other political groups.
Ahead of and formally at its first session, the European Parliament has to make up its mind on procedural issues and possibly on the approval.
If there is a majority for Barroso, the EP may decide to approve the nomination during the first few days, which is what the Czech and Swedish Council Presidencies have been tasked to find out. But the European Parliament will hardly take a decision without a formal nomination from the Council, in the composition of heads of state or government (by written procedure).
The office of the President of the Commission is the most important nomination the EP is allowed to approve or reject. The European Parliament can hardly dispense with some sort of public hearing of the nominee. It is possible that a majority argues that both Barroso and the rest of the Commission are in office until 31 October 2009, and that they should all be approved at the same time and according to the same procedure (possibly the Lisbon Treaty).
Despite unanimous backing by heads of state or government, Barroso is far from universally acclaimed, and the Greens, parts of the socialists and some other MEPs can hardly fail to capitalise on his relative unpopularity. In other words, some will most probably vote to slow down the procedure and against approval.
We know that there is going to be a President of the Commission, although it is not absolutely clear under which treaty the ‘election’ procedure is going to be brought to an end.
With regard to the rest of the Commission, there are material differences depending on the treaty in force at the time and the decisions to be taken by the European Council.
If the Lisbon Treaty enters into force, the European Council has promised to disregard its system of rotation between the member states and to opt for an exceptional decision, requiring unanimity. The Commission would continue to have one national from each member state.
If the Nice Treaty remains in force, the Commission has to be reduced.
But is there a compelling reason to separate the appointment of the Commission President and the Commission as a body?
European Council 18 to 19 June 2009 – Presidency Conclusions (Council document 11225/09 CONCL 2)
“Nomination of the President of the Commission
6. The Heads of State or Government agreed unanimously on the name of Mr. José Manuel DURÃO BARROSO as the person they intend to nominate as President of the European Commission for the period 2009-2014.
7. The Prime Minister of the Czech Republic and the Prime Minister of Sweden, as the present and the incoming Presidents of the European Council, will have discussions with the European Parliament in order to determine whether the Parliament is in a position to approve that nomination at its July plenary session.
8. In the light of these discussions, the Council, in the composition of Heads of State or Government, will, on the basis of Article 214(2), 1st subparagraph, of the EC Treaty, formalise its decision on the nomination of the person it intends to appoint as President of the Commission.
9. The process of nomination of the other persons who will be appointed as members of the Commission can only be initiated when the legal basis for the nomination procedure has become clear.”
Even if the financial crisis and economic downturn is used as a reason, how convincing is it to have a President in place, without the new Commissioners?