Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Europe comes first for Commissioners

Slovak Spectator - February 23rd 2004

Dear Editor

Letter to the Editor, Re: Recipe for EU success, By Lukáš Fila, Feb 16 - 22, 2004, Vol 10, No 6

As a frequent visitor to Slovakia and as a former active member of the about-to-be-dissolved Joint Parliamentary Committee EU-Slovakia, I have always appreciated the high-quality political coverage of your journal. Therefore it was a disappointment to see you fall into the common trap of twice describing in the February 16th issue Jan Figeľ as "Slovakia's Representative to the European Commission".

This misapprehension was the reason that small countries such as Slovakia, during the recent Constitutional Convention followed by the InterGovernmental Conference [convened for EU Treaty change], refused to consider giving up their individual commissioners, whereas big countries such as my own were obliged to give up their current second commissioner. The EU Treaties make it very clear that commissioners are not representatives of their countries but instead part of a supranational College of Commissioners whose members undertake to foreswear all individual allegiances to their member states of origin. Thus instead becoming the "Guardians of the Treaties", whose job is to look after the [EU] community interests. Furthermore, the Slovak government nominates a commissioner but this [person] is subject to a confirmation hearing in the European Parliament.

Unfortunately, the role of this guardian of the treaties has been forgotten recently when accusations were made against, for instance, Spanish Commissioner Loyola de Palacio of receiving instructions from her sister, Ana, foreign minister in the government in Madrid!

If this illegal concept you articulate is allowed to persist, then we will have enormous tensions between small states such as Slovakia and mini states such as Malta, Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Estonia - each with their own commissioners with one vote in the college and, according to the Nice formula, a disproportionate number of MEPs and votes for their population sizes in the Council of Ministers - and the big countries such as Germany, France, Italy, and the UK with between 10 and 200 times larger populations.

Lastly, comments you reported by Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan that Slovaks will not invade our labour markets fly in the face of some reports in the British press that report large numbers of Roma, in whose communities unemployment reaches 80 percent, being eager to move westward after the first of May.

This is the reason the UK government has decided to disallow social security benefit claims for the first two years from nationals of new member states, including Slovaks, to prevent benefit tourism occurring. They will do this by tightening up on "habitual residence" rules, which mean you have to live and work for some time in the UK before being allowed social security claims. Thus bona fide seekers of work from Slovakia will be welcome in the UK after the first of May but not those seeking to become a burden on the UK taxpayer.

Dr Charles Tannock MEP

Conservative Foreign Affairs Spokesman