The European Commission (EC) is part of the
There is one member per
The governmental powers of the Commission have been such that some, including former
The European Commission derives from one of the five key institutions created in the supranational European Community system, following the proposal of Robert Schuman, French Foreign Minister, on 9 May 1950. Originating in 1951 as the High Authority in the European Coal and Steel Community, the commission has undergone numerous changes in power and composition under various presidents, involving three Communities.
Commission of the European Atomic Energy Community
|Commission of the European Communities||European Commission|
|High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community|
|Commission of the European Economic Community|
The first Commission originated in 1951 as the nine-member "
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The three bodies, collectively named the European Executives, co-existed until 1 July 1967 when, under the Merger Treaty, they were combined into a single administration under President Jean Rey. Owing to the merger, the Rey Commission saw a temporary increase to 14 members—although subsequent Commissions were reduced back to nine, following the formula of one member for small states and two for larger states. The Rey Commission completed the Community's customs union in 1968 and campaigned for a more powerful, elected, European Parliament. Despite Rey being the first President of the combined communities, Hallstein is seen as the first President of the modern Commission.
The Malfatti and Mansholt Commissions followed with work on monetary co-operation and the first enlargement to the north in 1973. With that enlargement, the College of Commissioners membership increased to thirteen under the Ortoli Commission (the United Kingdom as a large member was granted two Commissioners), which dealt with the enlarged community during economic and international instability at that time. The external representation of the Community took a step forward when President Roy Jenkins, recruited to the presidency in January 1977 from his role as Home Secretary of the United Kingdom's Labour government, became the first President to attend a G8 summit on behalf of the Community. Following the Jenkins Commission, Gaston Thorn's Commission oversaw the Community's enlargement to the south, in addition to beginning work on the Single European Act.
The Commission headed by Jacques Delors was seen as giving the Community a sense of direction and dynamism.
The successor to Delors was Jacques Santer. As a result of a fraud and corruption scandal, the entire Santer Commission was forced by the Parliament to resign in 1999; a central role was played by Édith Cresson. These frauds were revealed by an internal auditor, Paul van Buitenen.
That was the first time a College of Commissioners had been forced to resign en masse, and represented a shift of power towards the Parliament. However, the Santer Commission did carry out work on the Treaty of Amsterdam and the euro. In response to the scandal, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) was created.
Following Santer, Romano Prodi took office. The Amsterdam Treaty had increased the commission's powers and Prodi was dubbed by the press as something akin to a Prime Minister. Powers were strengthened again; the Treaty of Nice, signed in 2001, gave the Presidents more power over the composition of the College of Commissioners.
José Manuel Barroso
José Manuel Barroso became president in 2004: the Parliament once again asserted itself in objecting to the proposed membership of the Barroso Commission. Owing to this opposition, Barroso was forced to reshuffle his College before taking office. The Barroso Commission was also the first full Commission since the enlargement in 2004 to 25 members; hence, the number of Commissioners at the end of the Prodi Commission had reached 30. As a result of the increase in the number of states, the Amsterdam Treaty triggered a reduction in the number of Commissioners to one per state, rather than two for the larger states.
Allegations of fraud and corruption were again raised in 2004 by former chief auditor Jules Muis. A Commission officer, Guido Strack, reported alleged fraud and abuses in his department in the years 2002–2004 to OLAF, and was fired as a result. In 2008, Paul van Buitenen (the former auditor known from the Santer Commission scandal) accused the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) of a lack of independence and effectiveness.
Barroso's first Commission term expired on 31 October 2009. Under the Treaty of Nice, the first Commission to be appointed after the number of member states reached 27 would have to be reduced to "less than the number of Member States". The exact number of Commissioners was to be decided by a unanimous vote of the European Council, and membership would rotate equally between member states. Following the accession of Romania and Bulgaria in January 2007, this clause took effect for the next Commission. The Treaty of Lisbon, which came into force on 1 December 2009, mandated a reduction of the number of commissioners to two-thirds of member-states from 2014 unless the Council decided otherwise. Membership would rotate equally and no member state would have more than one Commissioner. However, the treaty was rejected by voters in Ireland in 2008 with one main concern being the loss of their Commissioner. Hence a guarantee given for a rerun of the vote was that the council would use its power to amend the number of Commissioners upwards. However, according to the treaties it still has to be fewer than the total number of members, thus it was proposed that the member state that does not get a Commissioner would get the post of High Representative – the so-called 26+1 formula. This guarantee (which may find its way into the next treaty amendment, probably in an accession treaty) contributed to the Irish approving the treaty in a second referendum in 2009.
Lisbon also combined the posts of European Commissioner for External Relations with the council's High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy. This post, also a Vice-President of the Commission, would chair the Council of the European Union's foreign affairs meetings as well as the commission's external relations duties. The treaty further provides that the most recent European elections should be "taken into account" when appointing the President of the European Commission, and although they are still proposed by the European Council; the European Parliament "elects" candidates to the office, rather than "approves" them as under the Treaty of Nice.
The Barroso Commission is, in reaction to Euroscepticism, said to have toned down enforcement to increase integration.
In 2014, Jean-Claude Juncker became President of the European Commission.
Juncker appointed his previous campaign director and head of the transition team, Martin Selmayr, as his chief of cabinet. During the Juncker presidency Selmayr has been described as "the most powerful EU chief of staff ever."
Ursula von der Leyen
In 2019, Ursula von der Leyen was appointed as President of the European Commission. She submitted the guidelines of her policy to the European Parliament on 16 July 2019, following her confirmation. She had not been considered a likely candidate (in general, the elected candidate is determined, according to the results of the European election, as winner of the internal election into the dominant European party known as "spitzenkandidat"). While the European People's Party had won the European Parliament election, they had performed worse than expected and therefore nominated von der Leyen instead of Manfred Weber, their original candidate. On 9 September, the Council of the European Union declared a list of candidate-commissioners, which are sent to Brussels by the governments of each member state and which had to be officially approved by the parliament.
Powers and functions
The commission was set up from the start to act as an independent supranational authority separate from governments; it has been described as "the only body paid to think European".
Through Article 17 of the Treaty on European Union the commission has several responsibilities: to develop medium-term strategies; to draft legislation and arbitrate in the legislative process; to represent the EU in trade negotiations; to make rules and regulations, for example in competition policy; to draw up the budget of the European Union; and to scrutinise the implementation of the treaties and legislation. The rules of procedure of the European Commission set out the commission's operation and organisation.
Before the Treaty of Lisbon came into force, the executive power of the EU was held by the council: it conferred on the Commission such powers for it to exercise. However, the council was allowed to withdraw these powers, exercise them directly, or impose conditions on their use. This aspect has been changed by the Treaty of Lisbon, after which the Commission exercises its powers just by virtue of the treaties. Powers are more restricted than most national executives, in part due to the commission's lack of power over areas like foreign policy – that power is held by the Council of the European Union and the European Council, which some analysts have described as another executive.
Considering that under the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Council has become a formal institution with the power of appointing the commission, it could be said that the two bodies hold the executive power of the EU (the European Council also holds individual national executive powers). However, it is the Commission that currently holds most of the executive power over the European Union.
The Commission differs from the other institutions in that it alone has
The commission's powers in proposing law have usually centred on economic regulation. It has put forward a large number of regulations based on a "
Recently the commission has moved into creating
Once legislation is passed by the Council and Parliament, it is the Commission's responsibility to ensure it is implemented. It does this through the member states or through its
In particular the Commission has a duty to ensure the treaties and law are upheld, potentially by taking member states or other institutions to the Court of Justice in a dispute. In this role it is known informally as the "Guardian of the Treaties". Finally, the Commission provides some external representation for the Union, alongside the member states and the Common Foreign and Security Policy, representing the Union in bodies such as the World Trade Organization. It is also usual for the President to attend meetings of the G8.
The commission is composed of a College of "
Following the selection of the President, and the appointment of the
Following the College's appointment, the President appoints a number of Vice-Presidents (the High Representative is mandated to be one of them) from among the commissioners. For the most part, the position grants little extra power to Vice-Presidents, except the first Vice-President who stands in for the President when they are away.
The European Parliament can dissolve the College of Commissioners as a whole following a
Only the President can request the resignation of an individual Commissioner. However, individual Commissioners, by request of the council or Commission, can be compelled to retire on account of a breach of obligation(s) and if so ruled by the European Court of Justice (Art. 245 and 247, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).
The Barroso Commission took office in late 2004 after being delayed by objections from the Parliament, which forced a reshuffle. In 2007 the Commission increased from 25 to 27 members with the accession of Romania and Bulgaria who each appointed their own Commissioners. With the increasing size of the commission, Barroso adopted a more presidential style of control over the college, which earned him some criticism.
However, under Barroso, the commission began to lose ground to the larger member states as countries such as France, the UK and Germany sought to sideline its role. This has increased with the creation of the President of the European Council under the Treaty of Lisbon. There has also been a greater degree of politicisation within the Commission.
The commission is divided into departments known as Directorates-General (DGs) that can be likened to departments or ministries. Each covers a specific policy area such as agriculture or justice and citizens' rights or internal services such as human resources and translation and is headed by a director-general who is responsible to a commissioner. A commissioner's portfolio can be supported by numerous DGs; they prepare proposals for them and if approved by a majority of commissioners proposals go forward to the Parliament and Council for consideration. The Commission's civil service is headed by a Secretary General. The position is currently held by Ilze Juhansone. The rules of procedure of the European Commission set out the Commission's operation and organisation.
There has been criticism from a number of people that the highly fragmented DG structure wastes a considerable amount of time in turf wars as the different departments and Commissioners compete with each other. Furthermore, the DGs can exercise considerable control over a Commissioner with the Commissioner having little time to learn to assert control over their staff.
According to figures published by the Commission, 23,803 persons were employed by the Commission as officials and temporary agents in September 2012. In addition to these, 9230 "external staff" (e.g. Contractual agents, detached national experts, young experts,
Communication with the press is handled by the
As an integral part of the Directorate-General for Communication, the Spokesperson's Service, in coordination with the Executive Communication Adviser in the President's Cabinet, supports the President and Commissioners so that they can communicate effectively. On political communication matters, the chief spokesperson reports directly to the President of the European Commission.
It has been noted by one researcher that the press releases issued by the Commission are uniquely political. A release often goes through several stages of drafting which emphasises the role of the Commission and is used "for justifying the EU and the Commission" increasing their length and complexity. Where there are multiple departments involved a press release can also be a source of competition between areas of the Commission and Commissioners themselves. This also leads to an unusually high number of press releases, and is seen as a unique product of the EU's political set-up.
There is a larger press corps in Brussels than Washington, D.C.; in 2020, media outlets in every Union member-state had a Brussels correspondent. Although there has been a worldwide cut in journalists, the considerable press releases and operations such as Europe by Satellite and EuroparlTV leads many news organisations to believe they can cover the EU from these source and news agencies. In the face of high-level criticism, the Commission shut down Presseurop on 20 December 2013.
Legitimacy and criticism
As the Commission is the executive branch, candidates are chosen individually by the 27 national governments. Within the EU, the legitimacy of the Commission is mainly drawn from the vote of approval that is required from the European Parliament, along with its power to dismiss the body. Eurosceptics have therefore raised the concern of the relatively low turnout (often less than 50%) in elections for the European Parliament since 1999. While that figure may be higher than that of some national elections, including the off-year elections of the United States Congress, the fact that there are no direct elections for the position of Commission President calls the position's legitimacy into question in the eyes of some Eurosceptics. The fact that the Commission can directly decide (albeit with oversight from specially formed 'comitology committees') on the shape and character of implementing legislation further raises concerns about democratic legitimacy.
Even though democratic structures and methods are changing there is not such a mirror in creating a European civil society. The Treaty of Lisbon may go some way to resolving the perceived deficit in creating greater democratic controls on the Commission, including enshrining the procedure of linking elections to the selection of the Commission president. Historically, the Commission had indeed been seen as a technocratic expert body which, akin with institutions such as independent central banks, deals with technical areas of policy and therefore ought to be removed from party politics. From this viewpoint, electoral pressures would undermine the Commission's role as an independent regulator. Defenders of the Commission point out that legislation must be approved by the Council in all areas (the ministers of member states) and the European Parliament in most areas before it can be adopted, thus the amount of legislation which is adopted in any one country without the approval of its government is limited.
In 2009 the European ombudsman published statistics of citizens' complaints against EU institutions, with most of them filed against the Commission (66%) and concerning lack of transparency (36%). In 2010 the Commission was sued for blocking access to documents on EU biofuel policy. This happened after media accused the Commission of blocking scientific evidence against biofuel subsidies. Lack of transparency, unclear lobbyist relations, conflicts of interests and excessive spending of the Commission was highlighted in a number of reports by internal and independent auditing organisations. It has also been criticised on IT-related issues, particularly with regard to Microsoft. In September 2020, the European Commission put forward an Anti-Racism Action Plan to tackle the structural racism in the European Union, including measures to address the lack of racial diversity among the European decision makers in Brussels, as denounced by the #BrusselsSoWhite movement.
The European Commission has an Action Plan to enhance preparedness against
The European Commission organized a video conference of world leaders on 4 May 2020 to raise funds for COVID-19 vaccine development. US$8 billion was raised. The United States declined to join this video conference or to contribute funds.
The European Commission issued a new multi-year data plan in February 2020 pushing the digitalization of all aspects of EU society for the benefit of civic and economic growth.
The goal of this data strategy is to create a single market for data in which data flows across the EU and across sectors while maintaining full respect for privacy and data protection, where access rules are fair, and where the European economy benefits enormously as a global player as a result of the new data economy.
The commission is primarily based in Brussels, with the President's office and the commission's meeting room on the 13th floor of the Berlaymont building. The commission also operates out of numerous other buildings in Brussels and Luxembourg City. When the Parliament is meeting in Strasbourg, the Commissioners also meet there in the Winston Churchill building to attend the Parliament's debates. The Members of the Commission and their "cabinets" (immediate teams) are also based in the Berlaymont building in Brussels. Additionally, the European Commission has in-house scientific facilities that support it in: Ispra, Italy; Petten, the Netherlands; Karlsruhe, Germany; Geel, Belgium and Seville, Spain. In Grange, County Meath, Ireland there is a Commission site hosting part of DG Santè.
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