European Commission

The European Commission (formally the Commission of the European Communities) is the executive of the European Union. It consists of 20 members, at least one from each member state (the 5 largest member states, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and Spain, get two members each). The Commission is headed by a President (since 1999, Romano Prodi).

The members of the Commission are fully independent, and not permitted to take instructions from the government of their member state.

Appointment of the Commission

The President of the Commission is chosen by the European Council, a choice which must be approved by the European Parliament. The remaining 19 Commissioners are appointed by the member states in agreement with the President. Finally, the new Commission as a whole must be approved by the Parliament.

The European Parliament has the power to force the entire Commission to resign, by a vote of no confidence (requiring a two-thirds majority and more than half of the members voting in favour). While it has never used this power, it threatened to use it against the Santer Commission in 1999 whereupon the whole Commission resigned of its own accord.

Tasks of the Commission

The Commission represents the general interest of the Union as a whole. It has sole authority to initiate legislation in the first pillar (most policy areas), though it shares the power of initiative with the member states in the second pillar (foreign policy and defence) and third pillar (criminal law).

The Commission is the guardian of the treaties, and is responsible as such for initiating infringement proceedings against member states and others who disobey the treaties and other community law.

The Commission negotiates international trade agreements (in the World Trade Organization) and other international agreements on behalf of the Community. It closely co-operates in this with the Council.

The Commission is responsible for adopting technical implementing measures to implement legislation adopted by the Council and, in most cases, the Parliament. This legislation is subject to the approval of committees of the member states, through the procedure known as comitology.

The Commission functions as competition regulator for the Union, vetting all mergers with Community-wide effects, and initiating proceedings against companies which violate competition laws.

History

The Commission originated in the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was established in 1952 under the terms of the Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. Later in 1958 the Commission of the European Economic Community and the Commission of the European Atomic Energy Community were established under the terms of the Treaties of Rome. Finally, in 1967, these three bodies merged to form the Commission of the European Communities, established under the terms of the Merger Treaty. This is the body that continues to exist to this day.

Enlargement

See Enlargement of the European Union

The impending enlargement of the Union will increase the number of member states from 15 to 25 in March 2004. The particulars of the enlargement were discussed during the Amsterdam Treaty and writen into the Nice Treaty.

At one time, as part of the draft European Union Constitution, the larger member states proposed limiting the size of the Commission to less than the number of member states, and instituting a system of rotation, whereby each member state would take turns sitting out of the Commission for a term. The smaller member states however opposed this, considering their voice in the Commission to be important.

The IGC and the subsequent European Council meeting for the Amsterdam Treaty failed to find a solution to this impasse, and left the issue for consideration for the Nice Treaty IGC and the Nice European Council.

Of the 13 proposed states, 10 will became part of the European Union in March 2004. The accepted states are: Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakian Republic, Slovenian Republic. Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey have not yet been admitted, because they have still not caught up the standards in freedom and economic situation. A re-examination for Bulgaria and Romania is in plan for 2006 while Turkey is still in the pre-accession process, in Autumn 2004 will be decided whether it meets the fundamental conditions to negotiate its access to the European Union.

The Commissioners

As of September 2003, there were 20 Commissioners.

Three Commissioners were presidents or vice-presidents:

  • Romano Prodi, President of the Commission
  • Neil Kinnock, Vice-President, Administrative Reform
  • Loyola de Palacio, Vice-President, Relations with the Parliament, Transport & Energy

The other Commissioners were:
  • Michel Barnier, Regional Policy
  • Frits Bolkestein, Internal Market, Taxation and Customs Union
  • Philippe Busquin, Research
  • David Byrne, Health & Consumer Protection
  • Anna Diamantopoulou, Employment and Social Affairs
  • Franz Fischler, Agriculture, Rural Development & Fisheries
  • Pascal Lamy, Trade
  • Erkki Liikanen, Enterprise & Information Society
  • Pedro Solbes Mira, Economic & Monetary Affairs
  • Mario Monti, Competition
  • Poul Nielson, Development & Humanitarian Aid
  • Chris Patten, External Relations
  • Viviana Reding, Education and Culture
  • Michaela Schreyer, Budget
  • Guenter Verheugen, Enlargement
  • Antonio Vitorino, Justicre and Home Affairs
  • Margot Wallström, Environment

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