Commission plan to limit members may be dropped

 

THE European Commission's proposal to end the principle of one commissioner per member state is likely to be dropped, sources close to the Commission say. The issue is one of particular concern to small countries which regard their commissioner as an indispensable part of EU membership.

The proposal, part of a radical Commission draft submission to the treaty reviewing Inter Governmental Conference (IGC), is reported to have prompted angry opposition from commissioners from smaller member states at their meeting last Wednesday. They are now said to be confident that it will not appear in the final submission this Wednesday.

The text was ostensibly produced by the Commissioner for Institutional Affairs, Mr Marcelino Oreja, but is widely believed to be largely the product of President Santer's powerful chef de cabinet, Mr Jim Cloos.

The draft report was striking for its radical embracing of further pooling of sovereignty with repeated calls for extensions of majority voting. These are understood to have won wide support from commissioners, with the exception of the British duo of Sir Leon Brittan and Mr Neil Kinnock. They may not fare so well, however, when member states start the detailed IGC discussions following the Turin summit next month.

The draft also proposed significant changes in the way the Commission is appointed and the powers of its president.

Mr Santer believes the president needs powers to control those who speak out of turn. The draft suggests that a president, appointed by the European Council and endorsed by the parliament, should be able to pick commissioners from a list provided by member states - and if necessary, the draft hints, to fire them.

The submission suggests the president should "be in a position to assure collegiality for the duration of the Commission's mandate" and that he needs extra powers. Sir Leon Brittan however, is understood to have responded that strengthening both the powers of the president and collegiality, or collective responsibility, were mutually exclusive.

The draft submission also suggest that the number of commissioners be reduced to a maximum of one per member state but that "the Commission does not exclude the possibility that, above a certain number of members and in the context of a preservation of the institutional balance, the number of commissioners chosen by the president could be less than the number of member states."

Ireland's Commissioner, Mr Padraig Flynn, sources say, described the proposal as provocative and a non runner". The German Industry Commissioner, Mr Martin Bangemann, supported the idea, however, urging the use of a system of senior and junior commissioners. He was backed by Belgium's commissioner, Mr Karel van Miert.

Mr Flynn is said to have received strong support from the commissioners from Austria, Greece, and Denmark, Mr Franz Fischler, Mr Christos Papoutsis, and Ms Ritt Bjerregaard, respectively.