Over at the Centre for European Politics blog, Giacomo Benedetto raises a question many of us have been asking over the past couple of days; who is the new European Commissioner Baroness Ashton?
Assuming Gordon Brown wishes to reappoint her for a full term following the European elections in June, it is likely that Baroness Ashton will be in office until June 2014 - four years into what we all hope will be David Cameron's first term in government. Heads of government are unable to rescind Commission appointments mid-term and may only appoint replacements for a Commissioner who has resigned from their post (as in Peter Mandleson's case).
But is she even allowed to take office as a Commissioner?
As Giacomo says in his post, European Commissioners are forbidden under all circumstances from sitting as members of their respective national legislatures.
From 2009, the same ban applies for Members of the European Parliament. Earlier this year, following an assiduous campaign by Lib Dem MEP Baroness Ludford, a statutory instrument ("The European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008") was issued to allow those holding life peerages to suspend their membership of the House of Lords for their duration of the time in which they sit in Brussels. The statutory instrument, negotiated in conjunction with the Council of Ministers, came into force on 15th July of this year and only applies to the European Parliament. No mention is made of the legal status of peers who are also members of European Commission.
Article 1.1.1 of the European Commission's own 'code of conduct', clearly states that "commissioners may not hold any public office of whatever kind". Pretty unambiguous stuff. Whilst it is likely that Ashton will formally designate herself as being on "leave of absence" from the House of Lords in an effort to get around this problem, such a mechanism does not disqualify her from membership of the body and is therefore insufficient to satisfy the Commission's rules.
No mechanism existing through which she is able to resign her membership of the House of Lords and subsequent holding of public office, I cannot see how Baroness Ashton is legally permitted to assume office as a Commissioner.