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Summaries of EU Legislation

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The European Commission

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The European Commission



The Treaty of Lisbon has reaffirmed the essential functions of the Commission concerning its right of initiative, its executive functions and its duties of inspection and representation. Some of the changes made relate more specifically to the composition of the Commission. In continuance of previous amending Treaties, the role and powers of the President of the Commission are reinforced. The creation of the post of High representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is one of the main innovations. In addition, the Treaty of Lisbon has attempted to reduce the number of commissioners, but the European Council has not expressed the desire to put this provision into practice.


The principle established by the Treaty of Lisbon states that the number of Commissioners making up the Commission should be a third smaller than the number of Member States and that the members should be chosen on the basis of a rotation system founded on the principle of equality.

However, based upon a dispensation stated in the Treaty, in May 2013 the European Council unanimously decided to maintain the same number of commissioners as Member States (including the President and the High representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy). The Council will revisit this decision, in view of its effects upon the running of the Commission, before the nomination of the Commission which will succeed the one to take over on 1 November 2014 at the latest.

The Treaty of Lisbon also creates a new position within the Commission: the High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. His or her role is to conduct the Union’s foreign policy. He or she chairs the Foreign Affairs Council, retains the European External Action Service and is also one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission. He or she is appointed by the European Council acting by a qualified majority with the agreement of the President of the Commission. He or she is subject, together with the President and the other members of the Commission, to a vote of approval by the European Parliament.


The Treaties of Nice and Amsterdam greatly extended the powers of President of the Commission. The latter must establish the political guidelines for the College of Commissioners, but also decide upon the Commission's internal organisation. The President therefore delegates tasks to different Commissioners and may reallocate responsibilities throughout his or her time in office. He or she appoints the Vice-Presidents from among the Commission Members, with the exception of the High representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Since the entry into force of the Treaty of Lisbon, he or she may also ask a Commissioner to leave his or her post without the College's approval.


The President of the Commission is nominated by the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, then by the European Parliament. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Lisbon is breaking new ground by introducing a direct link between the result of elections to the European Parliament and the choice of candidate for the Presidency of the Commission. From now on, the European Council must take account of the results in the Parliament when nominating the person it intends to appoint as President of the Commission. This change increases the weight carried by the Parliament in appointing the President. To this end, and in the context of the 2014 European Elections, the Commission has recommended that the European political parties nominate their candidate for the post of Commission President, raising the political stakes associated with the elections.

By common agreement with the elected President, the Commission then adopts the list of persons which it proposes to appoint as members of the Commission, with the exception of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. The members of the Commission are chosen for their general competence and their independence. The Treaty of Lisbon adds a new criterion in terms of their commitment to Europe. The entire College is approved by a European parliamentary vote.





Treaty on European Union


Role and composition of the Commission; appointment and powers of the President of the Commission

Treaty on European Union


Appointment and powers of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy

Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union

244 to 250

Functioning of the Commission


European Council Decision of 22 May 2013 concerning the number of members of the European Commission [ 2013/272/EU - Official Journal L 165 of 18.10.2013].

Last updated: 09.04.2014