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No prolonged mandate for Barroso, MEPs warn

LUCIA KUBOSOVA

09.10.2008 @ 17:41 CET

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - If the Lisbon Treaty is not in place by June 2009, member states should keep their word on slimming down the European Commission, centre-right MEPs have argued, warning that parliamentarians would be reluctant to support a prolonged mandate for the current team of commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

Fewer MEPs, fewer commissioners, argues a Spanish deputy (Photo: European Parliament)

"Time is against us," Spanish conservative deputy Inigo Mendez de Vigo from the constitutional affairs committee in the European Parliament told journalists on Thursday (9 October), following this week's visit by the Irish foreign minister Micheal Martin in Brussels.

Ireland was originally supposed to indicate what it wants to do about the Lisbon Treaty, a reform of the 27-strong Union that was rejected in June by Irish voters, to the heads of states and governments set to gather for a two-day summit on 15 October.

But Mr Martin confirmed to MEPs on Monday (6 October) that Dublin needs time for "comprehensive research" and only by December does the country "expect to be able... to outline the necessary steps to achieve our objective of continued full engagement in the Union."

Mr de Vigo thinks, however, that it would be too late for the new institutional set-up to come into effect before the European elections in June, meaning that the pre-vote campaign would be again focused on the treaty rather than on other issues of concern for EU citizens.

Moreover, it would mean that the bloc's assembly would be elected under the current Nice Treaty with a different distribution of seats - 736 instead of 751 MEPs with fewer seats for 12 member states - and less power than envisaged by the reform document.

If that is the case, argued Mr de Vigo, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP-ED), the biggest parliamentary group in the 785-member legislature, would press for the rules on the composition of the EU executive also to be respected.

Under the Nice Treaty, "the European Council [heads of states and governments] will have to take a unanimous decision to reduce the number of commissioners. Are they ready to do that?" the Spanish deputy asked rhetorically.

"The EPP will be against any prolongation of the mandate of the current commission. We will not accept having the Nice Treaty on the number of seats in the parliament, and the European Council not taking a decision on the reduction of the number of commissioners that is also in the Nice Treaty."

Mr de Vigo hinted that some other political groups may follow suit in requiring this condition be maintained.

But according to one commission official, it is widely expected in the EU executive that the national capitals will agree to keep 27 commissioners, one each per member state.

UK worries

Also present at the media briefing, a German conservative member of the constitutional committee, Elmar Brok, pointed out that the Lisbon Treaty is the last chance for Europe's major institutional reform to be adopted this decade.

"I believe that in the next ten years in Britain, no ratification is possible. Not anything with major changes. If we don't get this, we get nothing," Mr Brok declared.

He referred to the strongly Eurosceptic positions of many in the UK's opposition Conservative party, which is expected to win the next elections in the country, due in September 2010 at the latest.

"If the Lisbon treaty is not ratified and on the table at the point we take office, then, of course, we would hold a referendum," the Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague was quoted as saying by British media last month.

The reform treaty has so far been ratified by 23 member states, with German President Horst Kohler's spokesperson announcing on Wednesday (9 October) that he would give a final nod to the document after a "thorough analysis" with legal experts.

Apart from final and unproblematic formalities expected in Poland and Sweden, the Czech Republic is the only country still waiting for the response of its constitutional court on whether the Lisbon Treaty is in line with the Czech charter.

The two Conservative MEPs believe that once all other member states have ratified the reform treaty, it would be easier for Irish politicians to put it forward to the country's voters for another vote, possibly with clarifications on sensitive issues such as Ireland's neutrality or sovereignty over tax or family law decisions.

EU symbols

Separately, with the fate of the Lisbon Treaty still unclear, the European Parliament on Wednesday decided to officially recognise EU flag, anthem and motto as the symbols of the bloc's plenary.

The flag, a circle of twelve golden stars on a blue background, will be now displayed in all parliament's meeting rooms and at official events.

The anthem, based on the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, will be performed at the opening ceremony following each European election and at formal sittings.

The motto, "United in diversity", will be reproduced on all Parliament's official documents, and the celebration of Europe Day on 9 May will be also formally recognised, says a report approved by 503 votes in favour 96 against and 15 abstentions.

The symbols were first officially referred to by the European Constitution, a document rejected by French and Dutch voters in 2005 and replaced by the Lisbon Treaty, which does not mention them.