• 2007-01-10

cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

Germany has taken over the rotating presidency of the European Union, and among its many priorities will be resuscitating the moribund EU Constitutional Treaty. Gunter Verheugen, the nation's representative on the European Commission, the massive executive arm responsible for carrying out the day-to-day functioning of the 27-member bloc, opened the debate last week when he suggested whittling down the commission by relegating small states' representatives to the position of deputy commissioner.

As it is now, every member state has full-fledged representation on the commission. This practice has to go, says Verheugen, and it is small countries that will have to sacrifice their posts.
"A small member state would benefit more from providing a deputy commissioner in an important area than a commissioner dealing in a marginal area," Verheugen, who is currently commissioner for industry, said. "We need an efficient, small and highly competent commission."

While the second half of his statement is undoubtedly true, the first half doesn't hold up to any reason or logic whatsoever. It is, plainly speaking, nonsense.
First of all, any criteria for measuring "small" and "large" member states is bound to be subjective, and therefore unfair. Do we go by population? If so, Poland would merit a commissioner, but not Denmark. Or perhaps by size Verheugen means wealth? In that case, new member states, which generally fill the bottom half of the EU27, would be deprived of a commissioner. Cut them out, and we'll have a 15-person commission mainly consisting of pre-2004 EU members. This would be a form of plutocracy. Be that as it may, with relative wealth (measured in terms of GDP per capita) changing, in 10 's 20 years we're likely to have a completely different alignment of member-states.

Second, any commission, whether it has 15 or 25 members, needs to be staffed with the brightest professionals on the continent. The crime de la crime. According to Verheugen's reasoning, these can only be found in "large states." Nothing can be further from the truth. A case could be made that smaller 's and newer 's member states are more eager to work, more determined to see the EU succeed, than some of increasingly "eurosceptic" states that have been dragged down by expansion fatigue. We needn't mention any names.

For instance, Andris Piebalgs, Latvia's representative on the European Commission, has been lauded as one of the EU's most competent managers. As The Economist magazine recently wrote, Piebalgs, "unlike most of his fellow commissioners, understands both the technicalities of his brief and its political dimensions, and has the nerve to take on the powerful energy lobbies in Europe's biggest countries who are as contemptuous as politicians as they are cowardly towards Russia."
In November 2005, Dalia Grybauskaite, Lithuania's representative on the commission, was named commissioner of the year by the European Voice "for her unrelenting efforts to shift EU spending towards areas that would enhance competitiveness such as research and development." As commissioner in charge of the EU budget and financial programming, Grybauskaite has one of the toughest jobs in Brussels.

Thus on closer scrutiny Verheugen's proposal doesn't wash. If the commission is indeed in need of downsizing, then both "small" and "large" member states will have to make sacrifices. Any other system would be contrary to the indelible ideas of equality and democracy 's two of the few remaining fabrics holding the EU together.