VerheugenHe’s had a rant at Commission officials, and then been caught naked on a beach with his chef de cabinet, and yesterday European Commission Vice President Guenter Verheugen was at it again – this time stating that: “A small member state would benefit more from providing a deputy commissioner in an important area than from providing a commissioner dealing with a marginal area… We need an efficient, small and highly competent commission.” Full story from EUObserver here.

The strong implication of Verheugen’s words is that Commission portfolios should be allocated according to whether the Member State that the Commissioner comes from is large or small, and that small states should just content themselves with second-class jobs. I would just like to remind Verheugen of what the Treaty of Nice says on the matter:

Article 213

1. The Commission shall consist of 20 Members, who shall be chosen on the grounds of their general competence and whose independence is beyond doubt.

While one might of course argue that Verheugen does not qualify to be a Commissioner in terms of his lack of general competence, the main point is however this: the Commission should be the exeuctive of the EU, tasked with defending the Union’s interests. It should not be a place where national interests are played out, and where larger states have the right to juicy jobs.


  1. sebastian

    @Dani: It’s not the Commission which recruits its commissioners but rather the Member States appointing them, see Art. 214 EC.

  2. I agree in principle, but merely relegating some commissioners to non-full Commission posts solely on the basis of how many people share his or her nationality strikes me as odd. To say the very least.

  3. We all want to see a smaller Commission based on merit rather than nationality, but I think we have to recognise that the main barrier to achieving that is the reluctance of some states to losing a full Commissioner – and so Verheugen’s comments pointing out that some non-full-Commissioner posts can still be very influential, are surely quite reasonable, indeed helpful.

  4. I do see your point Jan … but why is it “practice”? Why can’t the Commission recruit its commissioners on the basis of their capacity rather than their nationality or on the basis of just how much rock they have managed to nibble of their neighbours throughout history?

    It honestly doesn’t make sense to me.

    I’m ok with a competent German. I’m not ok with a competent German being given the job that a brilliant Slovenian can do.

  5. Jan Seifert

    I agree, if there is less than one Commissioner per member state, there cannot be a formal rule giving extra rights to “big” member states (who first of all would decide who is big). But as I write in my blog, I assume it to be practice that Commissioners from bigger member states will happen to have more central roles.
    You can see the same in the German government. Of course we have no rule regarding the distribution between politicians from the Länder but obviously you will always find central ministries occupied by people from Nordrhein-Westfalen (and rarely from Schleswig-Holstein!).

  6. I don’t in any way want to institutionalise that big/small divide – Verheugen needs to be careful with his words!

    I should also add: I am in favour of a smaller Commission, and indeed some loosening of the nationality requirements in the Commission. But the appointment of Commissioners should be on the grounds of competence and party politics, not nationality.

  7. Jan Seifert

    Hey Jon,

    of course big states and small states have equal rights in the EU and this has to be so. But what Verheugen talks about is real life in politics. And it is clear that you need to allocate some more central tasks to big states Commissioners to keep them happy on the table.
    Apart from that, chance would suggest that you get a bigger choice of well-qualified Commissioners out of a big member state than a small.. but maybe this is a different discussion 🙂
    I have commented much more positive on it than you: (in German though)

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