The European Parliament has had to make one formal adjustment for June’s elections – as opposed to the 750 MEPs foreseen in the Treaty of Lisbon (rejected by the Irish), 732 MEPs will instead be elected. A few countries get a few less MEPs.
Easy. Well, perhaps not…
The first task of the new EP is to sort out its own structures – President, Vice Presidents, Committees, Committee chairs etc. Even with Graham Watson trying to break the status quo this should be smooth enough.
Then it gets complex. Normally the period July-September would be used by the EP to approve the Council’s nominee for Commission President, and to hold the hearings for the approval of the Commission team. The problems this time are two-fold, entirely as a result of Ireland and the Treaty of Lisbon.
Firstly the Treaty of Nice (currently in force) states that there shall be ‘less’ Commissioners than there are Member States, but it does not say how big the Commission team shall be. The Treaty of Lisbon, with the caveat granted to keep the Irish happy, will ensure each country still gets a Commissioner, presumably with one of the twenty-seven being the new High Rep / EU Foreign Policy person. So should everyone calculate according to the Nice rules, or the Lisbon rules? If everyone is banking on the latter then all hearings for the new Commissioners are going to have to take place late in September, after the second Irish referendum.
Secondly, what about the Commission President? It looks more of an odds-on certainty that vacuous incumbent Barroso will be re-nominated, and the EPP are pushing for that to all be done and dusted in June or July. How will that play in Ireland, the same head of the executive there once more?
Perhaps more importantly, what is the European Parliament going to spend the summer doing? Plotting and speculating would be my best guess. For the longer the EP broods, waiting to get its teeth stuck into some legislation while the Commission’s future is on ice due to the Irish, the more scheming MEPs are going to be digging around in the CVs of possible Commissioner nominees to see if they can dredge up something akin to the Buttiglione affair of 2004.
While everyone has their eye on the EP elections now, and the Irish referendum in the autumn, the period in between could be very rocky indeed, with a new European Parliament that’s going to be searching for something to do.