EU countries fight for right to nominate commissioners

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The Independent Online

Controversial plans to strip countries of their automatic right to send a European commissioner to Brussels will be proposed today as the race begins to agree an EU constitution next month.



Controversial plans to strip countries of their automatic right to send a European commissioner to Brussels will be proposed today as the race begins to agree an EU constitution next month.

European foreign ministers will meet in Brussels for detailed negotiations on the draft constitution, with the UK digging in to defend its "red lines" over keeping the national veto on all areas of tax and social security, as well as foreign policy and most justice issues.

With little more than four weeks until a crunch summit in June to finalise the constitution, the Irish presidency of the EU is playing a waiting game before it presents plans on many of the most difficult issues.

However it is pushing a compromise on the highly sensitive subject of reducing the size of the European Commission, which has become unwieldy as the EU has expanded. Anxious about the power of the bigger member states, the EU's small nations are resisting a plan to cut the number of commissioners to 15, and fighting hard to retain the right to send a representative to Brussels.

The Irish plan would delay any reform until 2014, giving each of the new countries that joined the EU this month two full terms in the Commission.

At that point the team of commissioners would be slimmed to 18 members which, in an EU of 27 members (after the next enlargement) would mean that each country would have a national in two out of every three colleges on an equal rotation.

An alternative idea would be to decide the size of the Commission as a proportion - perhaps a half or two-thirds - of the total number of countries of the EU. This, the Irish presidency's latest document suggests, "has some attractions but it would have the consequence that, as the Union grew, so too would the size of the Commission". Ireland has been one of the countries resisting a reduction in the Commission size, so its proposal is seen as having a good chance of achieving a breakthrough.

The central question overshadowing the whole negotiations remains that of voting weights, with Spain and Poland still haggling over a system of "double-majority voting" under which decisions can be taken if they have the backing of half of all countries representing 60 per cent of the EU's citizens.

Spain wants to raise the population threshold to 66 per cent to enhance its ability to block measures it opposes. That is likely to be too much for some countries which fear that this will make it too difficult to take decisions in an enlarged EU.

But if Madrid and Warsaw make it easier to block decisions taken by majority voting, some nations will argue that the UK has no case for limiting the areas in which such a system applies. Britain says that, as a matter of principle it must keep the national veto in a host of areas such as taxation and social security, even though the proposed changes would be very limited.

Diplomats now expect that these issues will go to next month's summit in Brussels and form part of the negotiating endgame.

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