Tuesday, 2 June 2009

on the President of the European Commission

How Europe chooses its President:

The Council, meeting in the composition of Heads of State or Government and acting by a qualified majority, shall nominate the person it intends to appoints as President of the Commission; the nomination shall be approved by the European Parliament.

The Council, acting by a qualified majority and by common accord with the nominee for President, shall adopt the list of the other persons whom it intends to appoints as Members of the Commission, drawn up in accordance with the proposals made by each Member State.

The President and the other Members of the Commission thus nominated shall be subject as a body to a vote of approval by the European Parliament. After approval by the European Parliament, the President and the other Members of the Commission shall be appointed by the Council, acting by a qualified majority.

-Article 214 of The Treaty Establishing the European Community (as amended by Nice) Paragraph 2

What this means is Gordon Brown, Sarkozy, Merkel et al. (The Council) get together and after much discussion about fromage nominates a candidate for President of the European Commission (Monsieur le Président), the European Parliament elected by you and I then vote on if this is an acceptable candidate. If they say yes the candidate then puts forwards names of his Commissioners to The Council he would love to have in his College of Commissioners (his Cabinet, but try not to use that word), in effect these names are given to him by 'The Council' anyway as there needs to be one from each member state.

The full list is then voted on by The Council, and if this vote is passed the College and the President is presented to the European Parliament as a full body. If the European Parliament says 'we love 'em' then you would think that was the end of that, however, The Council has to again vote on the President and the Commission and his College as a full body, if this vote of The Council passes then we have an EU President and Commission.

The President is no ceremonial President. He or she directs the Commission politically (Article 217(1)), in effect ensuring that the College stays in check and doesn't mouth off outside, similar to the British cabinet. They allocate responsibilities no different to a British Prime Minister without outside approval (Paragraph 2), and can sack Commissioners without outside approval (Paragraph 4) although they do require the rest of the College of Commissioners to vote for this sacking. More importantly, the Commission has the sole right of legislative initiative not the Parliament.

Interestingly, should a Commissioner be sacked, the Council replaces them by a vote. Although the European Parliament may be consulted, their approval is not required. In 1999 however, due to pressure from the European Parliament over allegations of fraud, the entire Santer Commission resigned. Article 201 of the current Treaty gives Parliament the right to dismiss the entire Commission.

This shows that the European Parliament does have some power, which it is not afraid to use.

As the saying goes, the smaller the prize the more ferocious the fight, the European Parliament has proven itself effective in using every tool given to it by the Treaties, rejecting for example José Manuel Barroso's first list of Commissioners.

You can expect them to kick up even more of a fight when they reconvene in July.

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