EU leaders are expected shortly to announce that they have agreed between themselves not to reduce the size of the European Commission, overruling the text of the Lisbon Treaty. The change will likely be agreed unanimously this afternoon, according to Council sources.
The treaty had originally envisioned a reduction in the college at
the start of the current Commission in 2010. Large countries would have
maintained a permanent seat in the college, but smaller countries would
have had to rotate the remaining chairs among themselves.
Dissatisfaction with this arrangement was cited as a reason for the
Irish people rejecting the Lisbon Treaty in their first referendum in
2008. Before a second referendum was held the following year, it was
agreed to add a provision into the Treaty extending the existing system
until the end of the current Commission in 2014 "unless the European
Council, acting unanimously, decides to alter this number." The Irish passed the treaty in the second referendum.
The agreement expected today will extend this for the length of the
next Commission. This means we will have 28 commissioners for the next
five years. The original aim of the Lisbon Treaty to slim down the
Commission will thus be abandoned for the foreseeable future.
The fact that the agreement is being extended has not come as a
surprise, but it does serve as a reminder of how many of the Lisbon
Treaty's original aims have not panned out in reality. And given how
controversial this issue was back in 2008, it's interesting to note that
this decision was taken with little discussion or objection.
According to an EU diplomatic source, the only countries who objected
to extending the one-country-one-commissioner rule in the early stages
of discussions were Belgium and the Netherlands, but they have since
dropped their objection. The decision to maintain the current system
will be reassessed at the end of the next Commission (2019), or when the
EU reaches 30 members, whichever comes first.
Many have complained that the current size of the college of
commissioners has created an unwieldy situation where 28 different
portfolios have to be created for an institution that was meant to have
only 13. This means all sorts of new portfolios have had to be created
over the years to accommodate commissioners from the new members states
which have joined over the past decade.
Any member state could still veto the continuation if it so wished,
since the change requires unanimity. But it does not appear that will be
the case. It's interesting to see how little resistance there is to
this continuation now, compared to the huge fuss over this issue back in
2008. Reactions from the European Parliament have been muted, with
Andrew Duff merely remarking in a tweet today that it is a "pity" that
the very large Commission size will be continued.
It would seem that these institutional peculiarities matter less to
people now than they did back in 2008. The EU has much bigger problems
to deal with these days.