The many meanings of 'commission'

25 March 2009

The many meanings of 'commission'

According to Van Dale’s Groot Woordenboek der Nederlandse Taal (The Dutch equivalent of the OED, or Webster's), the word 'commissie' (Commission or Committee) has a range of meanings. It can mean "persons to whom a certain task has been given by an authority". In the Netherlands this would include, for example, the Davids Commission which is investigating the Iraq war. Or, further afield, the European Commission, which forms the day-to-day decision-making executive of the EU. The word 'commissie/commission' can also mean the fee paid to one given a commission. This is well understood in Brussels, where twenty-seven Commissioners each picks up a very nice 'commission' indeed.

by Harry van Bommel

Harry van BommelThe British think-tank Open Europe, which in the recent past calculated that the Lisbon Treaty is 96% identical to the rejected European Constitution, has now detailed the compensation paid to each member of the European Commission. This turns out to be quite eye-wateringly high. Over and above the basic salary of €230,000 p.a. come all kinds of bonuses and gratuities, most of them in the form of golden handshakes.

The British Trade Commissioner Catherine Ashton, who replaced Peter Mandelson less than a year ago, will receive, when she leaves in the summer, a pension of 10,335 p.a., a bridging bonus of more than €95,000 p.a. for three years, and a labour market premium of more than €20,000.

The president of the European Commission earns a basic salary of €296,000 euro p.a., rather more than US President Obama. Commissioners who have completed a full term – including the Dutch Commissioner, Neelie Kroes - will leave with around €1 million.

Over the last few weeks we have heard a great deal of talk in the EU about the economic and financial crisis. With already more than 20 million unemployed in Europe, and factories in the motor industry closing everywhere, prospects seem less than rosy. In the Netherlands, as elsewhere, a grim fate hangs over many heads. It's quite right that at the top end of the banking world, demands are being made that no more bonuses be paid out. I support this wholeheartedly. But isn't it time that European Commissioners started to turn down these fat 'commissions' that they pick up when they leave?

This year probably half of the twenty-seven Commissioners will take their leave and go off to do something else. They should set a good example. This will happen, I suspect, only if pressure is brought to bear by the member states. This seems to me a fine theme for the European elections on 4th June.

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