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Background Information
Election of the European Commission

Brussels, 22 October 2004

Election of the European Commission

On Tuesday 26 October José Manuel Barroso, the President-elect of the European Commission, will present his college of Commissioners and their programme to Members of the European Parliament. The following day MEPs will vote to elect or reject the Commission. This background note updates our note of 29 June.

On 29 June this year the EU Heads of State or Government nominated José Manuel Barroso to succeed Romano Prodi as head of the Commission. Mr Barroso's nomination was approved by the European Parliament on 22 July by 413 votes to 251, with 44 abstentions.

The President-elect then put together his team of 24 Commissioners, one from each Member State, and allocated them their portfolios. The next step was for the Commissioners-designate to undergo hearings, conducted by the EP committees responsible for their policy fields. These took place between 27 September and 11 October. Following the hearings each committee chair sent a "letter of evaluation" to European Parliament President Josep Borrell, giving the committee's assessment of the Commissioner in question. The EP Conference of Presidents (the political group leaders) decided on 13 October to forward all these letters to President-elect Barroso, leaving it to him to respond to MEPs' concerns at the next meeting of the Conference of Presidents on 21 October.

The letters were made public on 13 October and can be found at the following address:


Election of the College of Commissioners

The Nice Treaty lays down the following procedure for appointing the Commissioners:

"The Council, acting by a qualified majority and by common accord with the nominee for President, shall adopt the list of the other persons whom it intends to appoint as Members of the Commission, drawn up in accordance with the proposals made by each Member State.

The President and the other Members of the Commission thus nominated shall be subject as a body to a vote of approval by the European Parliament. After approval by the European Parliament, the President and the other Members of the Commission shall be appointed by the Council, acting by a qualified majority." (Article 214, paragraph 2, EC Treaty)

Within the European Parliament, Rule 99 of the EP Rules of Procedure applies:

Rule 99 - Election of the Commission
1. The President shall, after consulting the President-elect of the Commission, request the nominees proposed by the President-elect of the Commission and the Council for the various posts of Commissioners to appear before the appropriate committees according to their prospective fields of responsibility. These hearings shall be held in public.

2. The committee shall invite the nominee to make a statement and answer questions.

3. The President-elect shall present the college of Commissioners and their programme at a sitting of Parliament which the whole Council shall be invited to attend. The statement shall be followed by a debate.

4. In order to wind up the debate, any political group or at least thirty-seven Members may table a motion for a resolution. Rule 103(3), (4) and (5) shall apply.

Following the vote on the motion for a resolution, Parliament shall elect or reject the Commission by a majority of the votes cast.

The vote shall be taken by roll call.

Parliament may defer the vote until the next sitting.

5. The President shall inform the Council of the election or rejection of the Commission.

6. In the event of portfolio changes during the Commission's term of office, the Commissioners concerned shall be invited to appear before the committees responsible for the areas of responsibility in question.

Election decided by simple majority of votes cast

Unlike the vote on the nominee for President of the Commission, which is a secret ballot, the college of Commissioners is elected by a roll-call vote. The result is decided by a simple "majority of the votes cast", i.e. abstentions do not count.


The procedure for appointing the President is designed to ensure that the EU institutions operate in a democratic manner. The procedure has been strengthened over time, since the first elections to the European Parliament by direct universal suffrage.

In 1984, 1988 and 1992, the European Council submitted the nomination of Jacques Delors to the Enlarged Bureau of the European Parliament for consultation. However, Parliament had delivered a "vote of confidence" ever since the Thorn Commission in 1981. This procedure was enshrined in the text of the treaties by the Maastricht Treaty, which stipulated that the European Council must consult Parliament and not just its Enlarged Bureau on the choice of Commission President and that Parliament should hold a vote on the appointment of the entire College. The Maastricht Treaty also increased the Commission's term of office from four to five years and brought it into line with Parliament's own term of office, so that the endorsement of the President of the Commission and the College would become the first major political acts of every newly elected Parliament.

On 21 July 1994, the appointment of Jacques Santer was endorsed in Parliament by 260 votes to 238 with 23 abstentions. The parliamentary committees then, for the first time, held individual hearings of the candidate Commissioners. These hearings were held in public, which increased still further their importance in terms of parliamentary scrutiny and the "answerability" of the Commissioners-designate to public opinion and to the EP committees whose task is to monitor their work during the parliamentary term. The European Parliament then endorsed the composition of the College of Commissioners in January 1995 by 417 votes in favour and 104 against.

The Amsterdam Treaty further strengthened Parliament's role by granting it a right of approval, rather than merely a consultative role, on the appointment of the President. Parliament then approved the nomination of Romano Prodi as President of the European Commission on 5 May 1999, by 392 votes to 72 with 41 abstentions, after the resignation of the Santer Commission. Following individual hearings the entire Prodi Commission was approved on 15 September 1999, by 404 votes in favour, 153 against and 37 abstentions (this was the vote for the 2000-2005 term; another vote held the same day on the remaining few uncompleted months of the Santer Commission).

The Amsterdam Treaty also enhanced the role of the Commission President in the selection of the other Commissioners, stating that they were to be nominated by the Council "by common accord" with the President-elect. The Nice Treaty then introduced the right for the European Council to nominate the Commission President and the full College by qualified majority vote instead of by consensus.

Under the constitutional treaty approved by the European Council on 18 June this year, the candidate for Commission President will in future be chosen "taking into account" the results of the European elections and will have to be approved by Parliament not by a simple majority of votes cast but by a majority of Parliament's Members. If the candidate is rejected, the European Council will have to put forward a new candidate within one month. Pending the entry into force of the constitution, however, the current treaties contain no particular provisions or procedures in the event of rejection.

Further information:
Jaume Duch - tel : +32 2 284 3000; e-mail: jduch@europarl.eu.int
André Riche - tel: + 32 2 284 0992; e-mail: ariche@europarl.eu.int
Jack Blackwell - tel. +32 2 284 2929; email: jblackwell@europarl.eu.int
Jory van den Broeke - tel. +32 2 284 4304; email: mvandenbroeke@europarl.eu.int

Last updated: 22 October 2004Legal notice