European Commission candidates from the accession states are currently shadowing officials in Brussels, learning the ropes. But they must still face a confirmation process that could uncover skeletons in the closet.
The European Commission will help implement EU policies in 10 new member states.
Under the accession deal struck last year, each new European Union member has the right to send one commissioner to the Union's top administrative body, the European Commission, when the number of commissioners swells to 30 on May 1.
In the past, the current 15 member states sent a total of 20 commissioners to Brussels. The five largest members -- France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain and Germany -- were permitted to appoint two commissioners each. That's all about to change.
The new EU commissioners, almost all of whom have experience at the ministerial level in their home countries, will begin their work on May 1. They will have the same voting rights as the "old" commissioners, but during the first few months they will not be appointed to specific policy areas, known as directorate generals. Initially, each will be appointed to an existing commissioner, who they will then shadow to learn more about the way things work in Brussels. Each will be provided with a small staff of consultants and secretaries, but they will have have to rent their own office space. The running joke in Brussels diplomatic circles is that they'll be participating in "super internships."
Some are taking the temporary two-tiered system with a healthy dose of humor. "We'll have the most experience in November when the next batch of new people comes," said Danuta Hübner, Poland's incoming commissioner.
A new Commission
On Nov. 1, the normal term of the current European Commission expires, after five years under Romano Prodi's stewardship. The heads of state and government of the EU member states will select a new Commission president at a summit planned for the end of June. The president will then have until November to create a new Commission that would likely include the 10 commissioners from the new member states who have already been selected. However, elections are still on the agenda in a handful of accession states between now and November, and a change of government could also mean a change in the lineup of new commissioners.
The next Commission will be smaller than the current one -- shrinking from 30 members down to 25, or one for each member country. The larger countries are foregoing one commissioner as stipulated under the 2000 Treaty of Nice. Under the treaty, the Commission president will also determine the area of competency for each new commissioner. EU diplomats in Brussels already say top brass are working feverishly to determine new departments in order to give each commissioner a sensible job.
The new EU Commission president will first be chosen after elections in the European Parliament this June. The largest group in the parliament, the conservative European People's Party, is seeking to place one of its members at the Commission's helm. The hottest names being bandied about at the moment are Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and Luxembourgian Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker. But it's still too soon to rule out any surprises.
Trouble expected for ex-Communists
The incoming commissioners from the accession states must still be confirmed by the Council of Ministers by a qualified majority and will then have to appear before a hearing of the European Parliament at the end of April. Parliament will first hold a vote on the entire 30-head Commission during the first weeks of May.
During this process, the candidates' backgrounds will be put under the loop. Conservative politicians have already said they would seek to derail the appointment of any former Communists from Eastern Europe. However, 15 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, social democrats have refused to go along with them. The most suspicion on the part of politicians has been cast on Siim Kallas, the commissioner from Estonia. Before the Iron Curtain went down, he was the head of the Estonian state bank and a Communist Party member. Poland's Hübner was also a member of the Communist Party, but she resigned from the party before the fall of communism, which could help her case.
The European Commission is a full-encompassing agency with close to 20,000 civil servants who are responsible for making sure member states adhere to the treaties and practices of the European Union as well as overseeing its €100 billion annual budget. Additionally, the Commission is the only EU body with the legal right to introduce legislative initiatives in the EU -- a status that makes it particularly influential. The Council of Ministers and European Parliament are only permitted to vote on directives that have been developed by the Commission.
To read more about the candidates for the Commission from the new member states, follow the link below.