The European Comission (formally the Comission of the European Communities) is the executive of the European Union. It consists of 20 members, at least one from each member state (the 5 largest member states, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and Spain, get two members each). The Commission is headed by a President (since 1999, Romano Prodi).
The members of the Commission are fully independent, and not permitted to take instructions from the government of their member state.
Appointment of the Commission
The President of the Commission is chosen by the European Council, a choice which must be approved by the European Parliament. The remaining 19 Commissioners are appointed by the member states in agreement with the President. Finally, the new Comission as a whole must be approved by the Parliament.
The European Parliament has the power to force the entire Commission to resign, by a vote of no confidence (requiring a two-thirds majority and more than half of the members voting in favour). While it has never used this power, it threatened to use it against the Santer Commission in 1999 whereupon the whole Commission resigned of its own accord.
Tasks of the Commission
The Commission represents the general interest of the Union as a whole. It has sole authority to initiate legislation in the first pillar (most policy areas), though it shares the power of initiative with the member states in the second pillar (foreign policy and defence) and third pillar (criminal law).
The Commission is the guardian of the treaties, and is responsible as such for initiating infringement proceedings against member states and others who disobey the treaties and other community law.
The Commission is responsible for adopting technical implementing measures to implement legislation adopted by the Council and, in most cases, the Parliament. This legislation is subject to the approval of committees of the member states, through the procedure known as comitology.
The Commission functions as competition regulator for the Union, vetting all mergers with Community-wide effects, and initiating proceedings against companies which violate competition laws.
The Commission originated in the High Authority of the European Coal and Steel Community, which was established in 1952 under the terms of the Treaty Establishing the European Coal and Steel Community. Later in 1958 the Commission of the European Economic Community and the Commission of the European Atomic Energy Community were established under the terms of the Treaties of Rome. Finally, in 1967, these three bodies merged to form the Commission of the European Communities, established under the terms of the Merger Treaty. This is the body that continues to exist to this day.
The impending enlargement of the Union will increase the number of member states from 15 to 27 or more. If the current makeup of the Commission was retained, this would mean it would grow to over 30 members. Many think so large a body would be too unwieldy to work. For this reason a change in the makeup of the Commission was considered when negotiating the Amsterdam Treaty and the Nice Treaty.
The larger member states proposed limiting the size of the Commission to less than the number of member states, and instituting a system of rotation, whereby each member state would take turns sitting out of the Commission for a term. The smaller member states opposed this however, considering their voice in the Commission to be important.
The IGC and the subsequent European Council meeting for the Amsterdam Treaty failed to find a solution to this impasse, and left the issue for consideration for the Nice Treaty IGC and the Nice European Council. Here specific agreement could not be reached, but it was agreeded that the big member states would lose their additional Commissioners, and that once the number of member states rose above 26 the number of Commisioners would be restricted to a number less than the number of member states. However, increased possibilities to form a blocking minority in the Council may well mean decision-making in the EU will become much more difficult.