Wednesday 21 September 2011

Our Commissioner, for a given value of "our"...

The Commissioner for Financial Programming and Budget, Janusz Lewandowski, has been held up by the ruling Civic Platform Party in Poland as a means of getting the country a lot more money from the EU budget:

"Speaking in a wood-panelled room among fellow Civic Platform members, Lewandowski says: "We're talking about billions, even 300 billion zloty [€69 billion]. Thanks to this money we could reduce youth unemployment, even by half."

Fellow party member and foreign minister Radek Sikorski then pops up, adding: "That's what these elections are about. They are about money for Poland and who will get more of it. Why do we think we will do better? Because we have a strong team [gestures to Lewandowski] which can negotiate successfully.""

This has raised questions over the Commissioner's oath of independence, which Commissioners give when they are sworn into office to pledge that they will work in the general interest, and remain independent of national governments. EUObserver has reported that the Commission asserts that this was in line with the Commission's Code of Conduct:

"Commission spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen on Tuesday (20 September) said he did not cross the line because his remarks were of a "general" nature.

"The president [Barroso] is aware of the participation of the commissioner in this specific activity and it's our opinion that the commissioner, who intervened in a personal capacity, passed a very general message about the benefits of the general budget to Poland ... This activity, for which the commission punctually gave its agreement, is compatible with the code of conduct," she said."

Having a "national Commissioner" is a big issue. While there are far too many Commissioners, reatining one per Member State is a sticking point that is unlinkely to go away soon - the prospective loss of a Commissioner for 10 out of every 15 years was a major reason for the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty in the first referendum, despite equal treatment of the proposed rotation of Commissioners between big and small Member States. Though the Commissioners may swear independence (you can find the oath as a PDF here), they are generally held to be a national voice in the College of Commissioners.

At the moment Commissioners are nominated by national governments,* accepted by the Commission President elect, and elected by the European Parliament (as part of the Commission as a whole), with the Commission being accountable to the EP between elections. The independence of the Commission, and the indivdual Commissioners could be strengthened by bringing an end to the national nominations. So while there could still be one Commissioner per Member State, the choice of who the Commissioner actually is would be for the Commission President and the Parliament to decide. However, this would require a treaty change.

*The Council adopts a list of Commissioners based on the suggestions of Member States which are effectively Member State nominations in practice. (Art. 17(7) TEU.

1 comment:

  1. Poland can sod off. It's already the second largest recipient!