THE SIZE AND COMPOSITION OF THE
30. The Commission is currently made up of twenty
Members, two each from France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom,
and one from each of the other Member States. If the pattern of
appointments to the College of Commissioners is unchanged, there
is a risk, as the Government has pointed out, that this will lead
to "an unwieldy Commission, in which the responsibilities
of Commissioners are fragmented".
Lord Brittan of Spennithorne described some of the problems faced
by the present Commission of twenty Members where, on important
issues, every member felt obliged to contribute, and thus discussions
became "intolerable". He considered that the optimum
size for the Commission was no more than 20 to 25, which was about
the size of most effective Cabinets in "the vast majority
of countries" (Q 118). The French Ambassador in London, HE
M. Daniel Bernard, argued that the Commission of 20 Members has
reached "a limit beyond which the efficiency of its work
is bound to suffer" (Q 228).
31. The PPR sets out two options for the Conference.
The first is to move to one Commissioner per Member State.
This would involve the four countries with two Commissioners giving
up one of their posts. The second - more radical - option set
out in the PPR is to move to a system where the number of Commissioners
is limited, however many Member States there are in the Union.
32. The PPR makes it clear that the first option
is favoured by most delegations, and this was confirmed by those
witnesses with first-hand experience of the negotiations. Sir
Stephen Wall, UK Permanent Representative to the EU confirmed
that "a majority of our partners are very attached to one
Commissioner per Member State. Many of them argue that this is
not for the protection of national interests but so that there
is somebody who understands each national position in the College
of Commissioners" However, he confirmed the Government's
view, stated at the outset of negotiations in the White Paper,
that "we are not going to move to one per Member State unless
there is a very satisfactory deal on the reweighting of votes."
33. Professor Helen Wallace pointed out the dangers
of having one Commissioner per Member State:
"The proposal that every
Member State should have one and "its" Commissioner
risks distorting the role of the Commission and pushing it towards
being a body in some sense "representative" of the Member
States, the core function of the Council. This might well neither
help the Commission to reform itself into a high-quality collective
agency nor facilitate the work of the Council as the core representative
body." (p 33)
34. M. Bernard told us that this view is also held
by the French and German Governments, who consider that a ceiling
of 20 should be set on the number of Commissioners because "the
idea that Commissioners are representative of their country should
be rejected as it is contrary to the Treaty of Rome" (Q 228).
35. Mr Elmar Brok, MEP, one of the European Parliament's
representatives to the IGC thought that the outcome would be a
compromise, whereby every country would keep a Commissioner, but
the Commission President would have a strengthened role. There
would be a de facto division of the Commission into senior
and junior posts, and the President would have the power to give
posts to Commissioners and take them away, in a similar way to
the "reshuffling" which takes place from time to time
in most governments. This would be a way of recognising good performance.
Mr Frank Vibert, Director of the European Policy Forum, considered
that the Commission might, in future, be composed of "boards"
of five or seven dealing with key portfolios. He considered this
to be desirable, as it would avoid important portfolios becoming
"personalised" with one Commissioner (Q 3).
36. The views of the applicant states have been taken
into account in the Conference, and without exception they favour
one Commissioner per Member State. The Hungarian Ambassador in
London, HE Mr Gabor Szentivanyi, told the Committee that "at
the present state of development of the Union, every Member State
should be able to have a Commissioner". He was in favour
of restructuring the College, but on condition that there was
no two-tier Commission, and that the "collegial nature of
decisions should be preserved." (Q 515). This might be achieved
by a system of senior and junior commissioners and the creation
of "cabinets of commissioners", provided that "a
fair system of rotation is ensured" (Q 516).
37. The PPR sums up the options for the internal
reform of the Commission being considered by the Conference as
- Increasing the powers of the President, by giving
him particular responsibility for directing the Commission's general
policy line and more authority vis-à-vis the other members
(casting vote, allocation of portfolios etc.)
- Creating additional posts for Vice-Presidents,
(currently a maximum of two - Article 217 EC) to bring their number
up to 6 or 8 in all, to co-ordinate the Commission's activities
in different areas
- The possibility of "Commissioners without
portfolio" who would be assigned co-ordination tasks or given
special responsibilities by the President (PPR, p 14).
38. The PPR records that discussions reveal "great
willingness to move towards the above types of reform, with some
preference for increasing the President's role and creating more
Vice-Presidents". However, differences remain as to whether
these changes should be incorporated in the Treaties, or should
be left to the discretion of the Commission and its President.
One of the problems with these proposals is that they might lead
to a two-tier Commission, albeit one in which each Commissioner
had exactly equivalent voting rights. The difficulty facing the
Conference is well summed up in the ambiguous language of the
PPR: "The majority of delegations felt that the emergence
of a hierarchy should not under any circumstances result in two
categories of Commissioners being created."
39. Some of the potential advantages and difficulties
of such an arrangement were outlined by Lord Brittan of Spennithorne,
a former Vice-President of the Commission. On the positive side,
large portfolios could be more effectively handled by teams of
Commissioners. In the area of external relations, for example,
visitors to Brussels expected to see a Commissioner, rather than
a senior official, and at present there is only one Commissioner
whom they can see. On the other hand, there are delicate questions
of status - "smaller countries would be extremely reluctant
ever to forego a Commissioner, and extremely reluctant to relegate
to junior Commissioner". The possibility
of junior and senior Commissioners with equal voting rights and
differing points of view speaking against one another and voting
differently was "a recipe for confusion, to put it mildly".
He concluded that there was no painless way of achieving such
a restructuring (Q 123).
40. The unanimous view of our witnesses is that
the larger Member States will lose their second Commissioner,
and that in future there will be one Commissioner per Member State.
While it appears that this may be the outcome, we are not convinced
that this is a desirable result. The Commission is already larger
than is justified by the portfolios to be distributed or the tasks
to be fulfilled. A larger Commission risks being neither credible
41. The argument that each Member State should
have "its" Commissioner clearly has considerable support
among the Member States and the applicant States. The justification
generally given for this approach is that the presence of all
of the Member States in the Commission is necessary, in order
to ensure that the full range of national sensibilities is taken
into account when policy is being decided. However, the EC Treaty
states explicitly that Commissioners do not represent their State,
nor do they represent the Government of that State. It requires
Commissioners to be "completely independent in the performance
of their duties", and states that they "shall neither
seek nor take instructions from any government or from any other
body". The Member States for their part undertake "not
to seek to influence the Members of the Commission in the performance
of their tasks" (Art 213.2). Regrettably, there is a tendency
for these principles to be ignored in practice. It is the proper
function of Governments, acting through their Permanent Representations
in Brussels, to ensure that national interests and sensibilities
are taken into account when policy is being decided.
42. A decision to move to a much smaller college
of Commissioners would mark a clear break with the idea that Commissioners
in some way represent national interests. It would also, in our
view, promote a more efficient direction of the Commission's work.
Unless this break is made now, we feel that there is no realistic
prospect of it being made in the future, e.g. at the time of a
further enlargement. For these reasons we consider that it would
be very much better to limit the number of Commissioners, preferably
to a number below 20.
43. If, however, the member Governments resist
moving to fewer than one Commissioner per Member State, it will
become even more urgent to re-organise the internal workings of
the Commission. We regard it as essential that this is clearly
accepted, and its fundamentals decided, before there is the final
agreement on the question of one Commissioner per State. The
working practices are already under severe strain in a Commission
of 20. Lord Brittan of Spennithorne described the practice of
"tours de table", where each Commissioner gives
his view on the subject under discussion, as "intolerable".
It can only become more so as the Commission is enlarged, and
nears 30 Members. If the IGC agrees to allow the Commission to
expand above 20 or so Members, it must consider how such a large
body is to work efficiently.
44. We have considered several proposals for structural
change, some of which may require Treaty amendment. The proposal
that there should be an increased number of Vice-Presidents, in
charge of major policy areas, assisted by teams of Commissioners,
is one which clearly commands support in the IGC. If the Commission
is to enlarge, we would be in favour of such a development. We
would also favour the use of "boards" or "committees"
of Commissioners to prepare topics for discussion at full meetings
of the Commission.
45. One proposal which we do not favour is the
appointment of "Commissioners without Portfolio" to
co-ordinate developments affecting more than one policy area.
We consider this as unlikely to work in practice. All of the Commissioners
have equal status and voting rights, and it is difficult to see
how clashes of interests between two Commissioners could easily
be resolved by the involvement of a third Commissioner of like
status. The problem of co-ordination of policy needs to be addressed
in the organisation of the Commission's staff, and in particular
addressing the present "vertical" division of the Commission
RE-WEIGHTING OF VOTES IN THE COUNCIL
46. The PPR describes the current system of weighting
of votes, under which the number of votes of each Council member
reflects the relative population of the relevant Member State,
"not in absolute, linear terms but in accordance with a formula
of highly digressive proportionality resulting from a political
agreement, with Member States which have a more or less comparable
population size placed in categories which have the same number
47. With each successive enlargement of the Union,
new Member States have been placed in categories in accordance
with the same principle. The necessary threshold to achieve a
qualified majority, which has remained virtually unchanged through
the years, is in the region of 71 per cent of the total votes.
The current majority required is 62 votes out of a total of 87.
It follows that 26 votes are required to block any piece of legislation.
48. As the Union has enlarged, the percentage of
the total votes required to adopt or block legislation has remained
roughly constant. But when population is taken into account, the
picture becomes considerably more complicated. Under the present
system of weighting, Member States with a smaller population have
more votes than their size alone would justify. So, for example,
Germany has 10 votes (or one vote per 8.2 million of population),
the United Kingdom has 10 votes (or one vote per 6 million of
population) while Luxembourg has two votes (or one per 200,000
of population). The combined population of ten of the current
fifteen Member States is smaller than that of Germany. These
States between them have 39 votes. At present, a minimum level
of population of about 58 per cent is required for a proposal
to be adopted. Following enlargement, if the present system remained
unchanged, there is a theoretical possibility that states comprising
a minority of the EU's population could outvote those states making
up the majority. In the Government's view "this would negate
democratic legitimacy in the Council"
. The combined population of the three Baltic States, for example,
is comparable to that of Scotland. It is open to question whether
their combined votes should be comparable to that of the United
49. The PPR sets out a range of options for reform.
First of all, there is a choice between a dual-majority system
and a simple reweighting of votes.
50. In a dual majority system, any vote would require
two thresholds to be passed:
- A number of Member States or weighted votes,
- A percentage of the total population of the Union.
51. The choices to be made within the dual majority
- between a majority of Member States and a majority
of weighted votes as the first threshold to be passed
- If a majority of weighted votes is one of the
thresholds, between maintaining the present weighting scale or
reweighting in favour of the Member States with the largest populations.
- The size of the majority required for the first
and second thresholds. The Conference has considered proposals
ranging between 50 and 60 percent of the population of the Union
plus a minimum number of Member States (50 percent, a majority,
or 60 per cent)
52. In a simple reweighting, of votes, the main choices
to be made are between:
- An essentially "political" approach,
based on compensating Member States who will lose a second Commissioner
- A purely arithmetical approach, aimed at securing
agreement to a formula which will hold good for subsequent enlargements
without the need for renegotiation.
53. The PPR states that there is a divergence of
view between delegations on the approach to be adopted. But it
records a degree of convergence on the basic principles which
need to underlie a revised system:
- Weighting must reflect the "dual nature"
of the Union (a Union of States and of peoples)
- There is a need for a system which is "equitable,
transparent, efficient and easily understood"
- To ensure legitimacy, a minimum population threshold
of 50% is necessary.
- There is a political link between this issue
and the other aspects of the Amsterdam Triangle
- The weighting system should not make it more
difficult for the Council to take decisions.
54. The present system of weighting of votes is
unbalanced in the degree to which it favours the smaller States.
The inequity of the imbalance will become more and more apparent
as the Union enlarges further, to include a larger number of States
with smaller populations.
55. We believe that the Portuguese Presidency's
statement of principles provides a good basis for further discussion.
We would lay emphasis on the need for a system which is transparent
and easily understood, and would favour a system of double majorities.
Such a system would best reflect the dual nature of the Union,
which is a Union of States and of peoples.
56. We believe that, in a double majority system,
the first threshold should continue to be a weighted majority,
as at present. But we believe that the relative weights of votes
should be adjusted, to reflect more closely the populations of
the Member States. If the conference decides to remain with a
single majority system, then it will be even more important that
voting weights are closely matched to population size. Most important
of all, however, is that agreement should be reached in order
that enlargement can go ahead.
17 EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, 8th Report,
Session 1999-2000, HL Paper 67 Back
HL Deb, 16 June 2000, Cols 1849-1910. Back
EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. 8th Report, 1999-2000,
para 154. Back
In the debate on the Report in the House on 16 June 2000, differing
views were expressed on this matter (HL Deb, Cols 1849-1920). Back
White Paper, p.16. Back
White Paper, p. 18 Back