A new EU commissioner
SO FAR 11 European Union member states have nominated their members for the new European Commission, allowing them to lobby and be considered well in advance of appointments by the commission president Jose Manuel Barroso. The Government must not leave the decision until the last minute. It should put forward a senior figure with sufficient political experience to command a good position, rather than relying on a Fianna Fáil code of loyalty. This would be the best way to ensure the goodwill flowing from Ireland’s vote for the Lisbon Treaty is translated into continuing influence in Brussels.
The picture is complicated by uncertainty over when the Eurosceptic Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, will sign the treaty. Until he does Mr Barroso must go by the Nice treaty rules, which provide that the number of commissioners be less than the number of member states. Hence his curt warning to Czech prime minister Jan Fischer that unless the matter is resolved it could lose its right to nominate one. Mr Klaus’s latest demand for an opt-out to prevent any Germans demanding compensation for expulsion after the second World War has stretched everyone else’s patience to breaking point. His disruptive tactics are clearly designed to delay ratification until a new Conservative government in the United Kingdom might call a referendum to annul its ratification. So, it is not clear yet whether EU leaders will be able to appoint the new commission at their summit on October 30th; otherwise it will be done in December.
Since the assurance that Ireland and other EU states would retain the right to nominate a commissioner was the most important concession gained after the first Lisbon referendum, Irish voters have good reason to resent Mr Klaus’s posturing. Recognising that, the Government should make sure its nominee has the expertise and political skills required to get an influential job in the new commission and to reflect this stronger citizen engagement towards its work.
While the commission’s mandate is to protect the overall EU interest, the changes made after Ireland’s No vote last year underline its members’ important supplementary role as a channel of national communication and representation in Brussels. That is best protected by nominating a senior experienced politician as Ireland’s next commissioner. Outgoing Irish commissioner Charlie McCreevy was such a figure, commanding a leading portfolio in charge of the internal market. But bad relations with the European Parliament and a laissez faire attitude to financial regulation ahead of last year’s economic crisis affected his authority. Ireland’s vote for the treaty can restore goodwill if the right person is chosen.
The new commission will reflect the right-wing shape of European politics, but it will be more alert than the outgoing one to defend European interests on the world stage. The 27 member states compete hard for position in it, and the smaller ones must be smart to gain advantage. All the more reason to choose a strong Irish figure for this job.