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Rise and relativity of power in the EU executive body

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Rise and relativity of power in the EU executive body


After José Manuel Barroso, who will occupy the position of European Commission President? It is held up as the most powerful of the European institutional positions.

The head of the bloc’s executive body and the other 27 commissioners have been headquartered in the Berlaymont building in Brussels since Barroso began in the job, in 2004.

There is one commissioner from each of the EU member states. They operate as ministers, with defined portfolios.

European parliament elections

EU voters do not elect the Commission President directly. The reformed rules say the 28 heads of state or government propose a person based on the results of the elections for the members of the European Parliament (MEPs), who are directly elected by the people. The MEPs have power of approval. If they reject a nominee, another must be considered.

The position was created in 1957, for what had been christened the European Economic Community, of six nations. Walter Hallstein was the first man to fill it, from 1958 to 1967, the only German who has ever been in the job.

The role gradually became more important, though limited in influence, notably by the oil crises of 1973 and 1979.

The faltering of European integration in the early days would only finally give way to institutions that gripped the road under the Commission presidency of Frenchman Jacques Delors. He led it for ten years, from 1985. When he stepped aside, a modernised bloc now called the European Union had expanded its membership to 15 countries.

The person in the executive hotseat now had a hand in steering the EU by proposing legislation to the leaders’ Council and the Parliament, and in the implementation of decisions. The chief could pick his team, and fire commissioners. Today the president also represents the EU abroad in areas other than foreign and security policy.

The Commission represents the interests of the EU as a whole rather than any individual state. It is guardian of the European Treaties, the most recent signed in Lisbon in 2009.

The Lisbon Treaty reconfirms that the commissioners act independently from their countries of origin, and adds to the power of the president over national budgets.

The latest European Union reforms are referred to in the Parliament’s slogan for the 2014 elections, ‘This time it’s different’, in that the MEPs elected by European voters have a final say in who will be next president of the European Commission.

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