Swedish Prime Minister Frederik Reinfeldt has finally admitted what no other EU leader dare say ahead of the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
He has drawn attention to the fact that, contrary to what Irish politicians are saying, the current, Nice Treaty rules represent a far better and far safer deal for Ireland in terms of its representation in the European Commission.
As we've argued many times before, the Nice Treaty arrangements do indeed call for the size of the Commission to be reduced. But only by one member. This means that if we were to stick to the current rules, Ireland would be without an EU Commissioner for 5 out of every 135 years (there are 27 member states, and each one would take it in turns to forego their commissioner for a five-year period at a time).
The Lisbon Treaty, however, still clearly states (go and check it out if you don't believe us), that the number of EU Commissioners must be no more than two thirds of the number of member states. Under these arrangements, Ireland will be without a Commissioner for 5 out of every 15 years.
In an effort to appease Irish people long enough to get them to say 'yes' to the Treaty, EU leaders made a political (not legal) agreement in June that, in return for ratifying the Treaty and giving the EU swathes of new powers, every member state would be able to keep its Commissioner.
Here's the thing. In the event that future EU leaders (they are bound to be different to the ones who made the promise in June) decide to stick to the promise made by their predecessors, and vote to allow the Commission to remain at 27 members (of which there is no guarantee), nobody knows how long that arrangement will last. As we said, the text of the Treaty remains unchanged, and the default Lisbon position, under which EU leaders will by then be operating, remains that Ireland will be without a commissioner for 5 out of every 15 years. There is absolutely nothing to stop them reverting to that default position at any time in the future.
As admitted by the Swedish Prime Minister.
Under the headline "Keeping our commissioner without Lisbon", the Irish Times' Europe correspondent Jamie Smyth writes on his State of the Union blog, that following an interview with Fredrik Reinfeldt, "a no vote would be respected and the Nice Treaty would prevail. Contrary to some of the exaggerated claims of yes campaigners the sky wouldn't fall on Ireland's head."
Smyth also reports that Reinfeldt said a "26 plus one" plan is favoured by diplomats and the probable solution, with 26 member states keeping a Commissioner, and the last state taking the 'High Representative' role currently played by Javier Solana.
Crucially, he quotes Reinfeldt saying: "We might in the future get back to this discussion. What if we keep on enlarging?"