EU Leaders to Sidestep Lisbon Treaty Rule
2013-05-22 0:00

By Christoph Schult | Spiegel

The Lisbon Treaty clearly intends for the size of the European Commission to be reduced below its present size of 27 members. But EU leaders have reached unanimous agreement to sidestep the provision -- and even plan to add a seat to the table for the Croatians.

From the outside, it looks as though the European Union is hopelessly divided. Northern member states demand budgetary discipline while those in the south bemoan drastic austerity measures. Furthermore, the Franco-German alliance is brittle, to the point that a planned policy paper on the future of the European common currency area -- to be written jointly by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande -- has yet to materialize.

Astoundingly, however, the 27 EU member-states can still reach consensus. At the EU summit meeting this Wednesday, leaders are set to rubber stamp an agreement that has been reached on the quiet in recent weeks -- that of ignoring the Lisbon Treaty provision that calls for a reduction to the size of the European Commission.

Currently, there are 27 commissioners on the European Union’s executive body, one for each country in the club. With Croatia set to become the 28th member on July 1, the European Council on Wednesday plans to allow Zagreb to send a commissioner to Brussels for the rest of Commission President José Manuel Barroso’s term.

Yet what looks to be little more than a routine resolution is actually the public face of a much more sweeping ruling set for passage at the summit. The formulation "one commissioner per country" is to be maintained beyond the year 2014, as SPIEGEL ONLINE learned from EU diplomats. It will be valid not only for the incumbent Commission, but also for the next Commission to be installed following European elections in May 2014.

No Opposition

It is a move which flies in the face of the intent of the Lisbon Treaty, which went into effect on Dec. 1, 2009. Article 17, paragraph 5 of the treaty states: "As from 1 November 2014, the Commission shall consist of a number of members, including its President and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, corresponding to two thirds of the number of Member States." European leaders, however, want to make use of the clause in the treaty which allows the European Council to alter that number.

The decision must be a unanimous one. And thus far, neither among EU ambassadors nor in bilateral talks in the run-up to the summit has a single country indicated its opposition to the decision. Not even Britain, which is normally quick to take the bloc to task for profligacy and has threatened to withdraw from the EU if Brussels’ power isn’t limited, is planning to vote against the resolution.

When the Lisbon Treaty was being negotiated and ratified, the reduction of the size of the Commission was frequently highlighted as evidence that the EU sought to streamline its inflated bureaucracy. Once Ireland voted "no" to the treaty in 2008, however, Dublin was given a commitment that each member state would continue to be allowed to send a commissioner to Brussels. Many countries were concerned about the fact that a reduced Commission size would mean that some countries would have no presence at all on the EU executive body for an entire legislative session.


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