It was complicated enough in the days when the appointment of new Commissioners was subject to political bartering and backroom deals. Now the negotiations are not only highly political but institutional and legal too.
The coming Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty is causing all kinds of headaches in terms of timing (the Summit this week agreed provisions for the concerns raised by the Irish in a new annex of the Treaty).
Before the euro elections earlier this month, the Parliament deferred the Commissioners appointment to November, when the referendum results will be known. The Nice Treaty (currently in effect) allows for the nomination of a total of 26 European Commissioners, hence leaving one member state deprived of a representative.The Lisbon Treaty makes provision for the nomination of a commissioner per Member State. We have no way of knowing which rules will apply to the make up of the new Commission until we know the outcome of the Lisbon ratification process. How can Commissioners be nominated, approved by the Parliament and appointed to new jobs if we don't know yet how many Commissioners there wil be?
While this is a headache for the Commission, it does offer some political convenience to member states, since it gives them time promote their favoured candidates for a top job and secure policy commitments from the Commission President. Angela Merkel, for instance, wants to wait until the outcome of national elections in September where she is confident of good result for her party following a strong showing in the Euro-election results. If she succeeds in getting the Social democrats out of the government coalition, she will be free to nominate a Christian democrat.
But postponing the Commission nomination so that it falls under the Lisbon Treaty regime invites another legal problem. People tend to forget that the Lisbon Treaty will not be implemented for a few years, and, even more importantly, is contested by constitutional courts.
In the meantime, the President of the Commission has to be nominated. The European Council gathering this week for the last time under the Czech presidency unanimously called for the renewal of José Manuel Barroso as president of the college of commissioners. Uncertainties prevailed at the Summit about the legal effect of this nomination. Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel called for this decision to be merely informal and political, whereas Sweden asked for the decision to be legally binding. Fredrik Reinfeldt, the Swedish PM, declared that he feared “uncertainty” and that the EU needed a stable force at this time of transition. In the end, EU leaders only showed an informal and political support to Barroso's nomination to start a second term as President. They put off the legal endorsement of Barroso until mid July when the Parliament is expected to vote on the matter.
However this half-hearted support for Barroso from Council is only half the story. There is a dilemma over when the Parliament's endorsement or otherwise should take place. Should it take place in July, under the Nice treaty, which asks only for a simple majority of the voters? Or should it take place after the Irish referendum, as requested by France, to fall under the Lisbon Treaty regime, hence requiring an absolute majority, much more difficult to achieve?
Even Angela Merkel, who declared a clear support for Barroso's candidature, said that reaching even a simple majority in Parliament will be easier said than done. Whyso? Barroso is facing opposition from the Greens, the Socialists, some Liberal Democrats, and even some from his own group the PPE, who intend to present another candidate in the person of Mr Guy Verhofstadt, Belgium’s former PM.
But altogether, this opposition represents 294 MEPs, which is clearly not a majority (there are 736 MEPs in total). But they maybe will count with the 93 MEPs who are not affiliated yet. However, since the ballot is actually secret, it is difficult to make any sensible prediction.
My money is still on Barroso getting re-nominated - simple or absolute majority. The nomination of Barroso is seen by many as the only solution to resolve the financial crisis and assure continuity in the European Union policies. Asked about his priorities for his second mandate; the former Portuguese prime minister said he would first focus on tackling the financial and economic crisis. Striking a deal at the UN global climate talks in Copenhagen is his second short-term priority, he said.
Furthermore, rumors are flying bout the possible the possible commissioners. Only 7 out of 27 are expected to renew their mandate.
France is pushing to get Barnier, former Agriculture ministry and newly elected MEP, as the Commissioner for Internal Market. However, seeing that this portfolio is significant for the financial supervision reform, Sarkozy might propose the nomination of Jean-Pierre Jouyet, chairman of the French financial market authority.
On the other hand, Merkel stated that she would nominate the Commissioner only when the portfolios are done being attributed to Member States. However, it seems that she plans for Wolfgang Schäuble, Christian Democrat Interior minister, to be the next German EU commissioner, even though others already declared their interests. On the contrary, in Luxembourg, the choice seems to be made, and Viviane Reding should be assured to go on being the Commissioner for the information society portfolio for the third time. In the UK, Geoff Hoon might replace Mandelson, but it would lead to a by-election in his constituency which would be another blow to the already beleagured Prime Minister if Labour were to lose it at a time he is focusing on his fight-back.