Friday, May 14, 2004

No decision on composition of commission

Contrary to some media reports, the highly controversial issue of the commission composition is very far from settled. In fact, all the Irish presidency has done is offer a highly tentative outline for discussion. So tentative is this that it states "The Presidency is not for now proposing Treaty language on the key issue of the composition of the Commission".

Furthermore, the presidency sticks by its own terms. Rather than making any proposals, it simply draws attention to the "various possible options" that have been "mooted", namely a slimmed down commission of 15 members, or a number representing a proportion of the total number of member states, "for example, one half or two-thirds". Although the figure of 18 commissioners has been mentioned in some press reports, the reference in the presidency document refers to this number only in the context that it "recalls that in previous discussions several delegations have expressed interest in an eighteen-member college…".

Thus with three different ideas, rather than proposals, on the table – as well as a caucus which opposes any reduction in the "one state, one commissioner" status quo - there is not even a substantive proposal on the table, much less any move towards consensus.

With a diffidence that does not augur well for the negotiations to come, the presidency then adds that it "is aware that for many delegations this issue can only be resolved in the context of an overall settlement of the institutional issues". In other words, the issue is linked with others, in this case, with the voting rights controversy. That is a very bad sign.

Unsurprisingly, the presidency is hedging its bets by suggesting that the implementation of any plan should be delayed until 2014, but then shows what might be either desperation or frustration (or both), by stating that "it would be preferable to resolve the matter now, with a view to avoiding protracted debate in the future and to offering citizens the greatest possible clarity".

However, given the sensitive nature of this issue, with no substantive proposal on the table at this late stage of the negotiations, it seems hard to believe that this matter can be resolved in time for the June summit.

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