The Juncker Commission 2014-2019

[European Commission]

After months of deliberation, Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker presented his team, and the new executive structure, on 10 September.

He said of the candidates, “The team that will put Europe back on the path to jobs and growth.”

Juncker also reiterated that he allocated the portfolios to people, not to countries.

Background

Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission President-elect, announced on 10 September the distribution of portfolios within his team in Brussels.

With 18 former ministers and prime ministers, the new Commission will be ‘a very political Commission, as incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said presenting his new executive.

If confirmed in a Parliament vote in October, the European Commission will take office on 1 November 2014.

 

Issues

Who gets what?

With 18 former ministers and prime ministers, the new Commission will be ‘a very political Commission, as incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said presenting his new executive.

“This new Commission has the potential to break away from the guardianship of the Council. We count on Juncker to show such leadership,” Guy Verhofstadt, ALDE group leader said, stressing his disappointment at the number of women commissioners.

Leadership and balance will be needed in managing the college of commissioners. Indeed, Juncker decided to hand key economic responsibilities to key German allies, austerity supporters. French, British and German commissioners were given important portfolios, but they will be overseen by others, in a new-look hierarchy.

Appointing Britain's Jonathan Hill to a brief including banks and the integration of EU capital markets was widely seen as a gesture to Prime Minister David Cameron, a vocal critic of Juncker and his support for a powerful Brussels that Cameron says could push the UK to quit the European Union.

>> Read: German politicians condemn ‘wrong’ Commission appointment for France, UK

Pierre Moscovici, the nominee of French President François Hollande, and a proponent of government spending to boost euro zone growth, will run economic and monetary affairs.

But in a sign of the balance struck between the competing interests of the 28 EU member states, both the economy and finance portfolios will be overseen by two vice-presidents on Juncker's Commission.

Former prime ministers Jyrki Katainen of Finland and Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia will be respective vice-presidents, with oversight of Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and The Euro and Social Dialogue.

Both northern eurozone countries are allies of Angela Merkel, and backers of austerity.

Germany, as the economic powerhouse of the Union, will undoubtedly have a major say in its affairs. Berlin's representative, the outgoing EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger, will be responsible for the Digital Economy portfolio, notably the telecoms industry.

The introduction of an upper layer of seven vice-presidents without their own direct portfolios, including a powerful first vice-president in the shape of Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, was explained by Juncker as a way to improve the coordination of the Commission's work.

>> Read: Timmermans to wield veto right over ‘excessive bureaucracy’

The nomination of Nordic allies of free-trading Britain to key roles in global trade negotiations and anti-trust policy may also offer London comfort.

Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager will be in charge of the powerful competition portfolio that gives the EU a big say in the expansion or merger plans of the world's biggest companies.

Sweden's Cecilia Malmström will have the task of negotiating the world's biggest trade agreement between the United States and Europe.

Miguel Arias Cañete of Spain will be energy and climate change commissioner, though former Slovenian former premier Alenka Bratušek will have the more senior post of vice-president overseeing the development of an energy union.

El?bieta Bie?kowska of Poland is commissioner for the Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and Small Business.

Hugo Brady, an expert on the European Union at the London School of Economics, said it was "very clever" to have appointed as deputy Timmermans, a leading veteran of European diplomacy from a country often sceptical of EU centralisation.

"Juncker has done a very good job of marshalling quite an array of big beasts. A lot of decisions are quite courageous," he said, noting a mix of left and right-wing politicians.

"Hill for financial affairs is a major peace offering to Cameron. It is clever, it is political and it is generous," Brady said. "The Commission is also well stacked up with fiscal hawks, in a gesture to Germany."

Infographic: Who's who in the new European Commission? [Updated: 1 November 2014]:

The new structure

Beyond individuals, the structure of the new Commission makes analysts wonder whether it will achieve all it promises to achieve.

In theory, the 28 European Commissioners share the power to initiate legislation. But this may well change with the concentration of power in the hands of the President and his entourage of 7 Vice-Presidents, each leading a project team that the executive said mirrored political guidelines, such as Energy Union; Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and Digital Single Market.

Juncker’s decision to give vice presidents a boosted role and making Dutch and Italian foreign ministers Frans Timmermans and Federica Mogherini his right and left hands, might create friction among former ministers, who want to shine, and manage their own portfolios, rather than being dictated to by a vice-president.

The new architecture, which centralises power in what is perceived to be a  presidents’ bureau, has surprised many political observers in Brussels, who are used to a Commission taking decisions by consensus.

Not anymore: the power of legislative initiative, which is the prerogative of the Commission according to the treaties, could effectively be taken from the "junior" Commissioners and placed in the hands of the eight "senior" ones.

Vice-presidents have always existed within the College of Commissioners, but the post was largely honorary, handed out by a president-elect to reward returning commissioners or to sweeten the deal for a commissioner receiving a lightweight portfolio. In past years, members of the Brussels chattering classes have regularly floated the idea of empowering vice-presidents with real coordinating power - perhaps even with power to take decisions regularly on behalf of the entire College.

Crucially, now it would appear that any legislative bills initiating from the 'simple' Commissioners will need the approval of their superiors in order to move forward.

All vice-presidents will have power "to stop any initiative, including legislative initiatives" of commissioners working under their watch, Juncker said as he presented his new team on 10 September, raising questions as to the new power structure of the Commission.

Commission sources insist that the new project teams will meet once a month and the vice president will have a coordinating role rather than a top-down approach.

“The idea is to prepare the work together so that there is better coordination on initiatives, that’s the role of the vice president,” the source added.

It remains to be seen how effectively they will impose this pyramidal structure on the Commission. "The treaties specify that the legislative initiative is in the hands of the Commissioners, and that will not officially change," says Daniela Corona, a researcher at the College of Bruges told EURACTIV France. But the concentration of this power with the Vice-Presidents, who will have the power of veto over the work of their ‘subordinate' Commissioners, is a new development, he said.

Women quota: No advance

In the next five years, three out of seven vice presidents will be women. These women include Kristalina Georgieva from Bulgaria, who will be in charge of the Commission's budget, Slovenia's former prime minister Alenka Bratušek in charge of Energy Union, as well as the former Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini, who will be the next High Representative for Foreign Policy. 

Meanwhile, the last six women have been given key portfolios: the Czech Republic's V?ra Jourová is now in charge of Justice, Romania's Corina Cre?u will get the responsibility of the Regional Policy, Belgium's Marianne Thyssen is Employment Commissioner, Poland's El?bieta Bie?kowska will be steering the EU's internal market. Sweden's Cecilia Malmström has secured the Trade portfolio, and Denmark's Margrethe Vestager will be assuming the Competition portfolio.

During his election campaign last Spring, Juncker stated that 40% of his Commission would be made up of women. But over the summer, it was clear that getting member states to nominate female commissioners would become a challenge. In an attempt to create gender balance, Juncker promised a big portfolio or vice-presidency to member states that presented an official female candidate.

During the presentation of the new commissioner portfolios last Thursday, Juncker said nine women in his Commission is not an advance as far as gender equality is concerned, but it is not a step back, either.

"Getting nine female commissioners was a real struggle. I have started with just three at the end of July, spent the whole month of August on the phone – while you were in the sun - trying to increase that number," Juncker told journalists during a press conference. 

>> Read: Juncker's call for female commissioners falls on deaf ears

Climate: the bigger loser?

The nomination of Miguel Arias Cañete for the position of Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy has been roundly criticised.

Also the merging of the two portfolios, which are currently separate, has stirred debate.

Some, like Luxembourgish MEP Claude Turmes, see the merging of the Directorates General for Energy and Climate as quite simply dreadful. "The merger of the climate and energy portfolios sends out a bad signal in view of the Paris climate summit in 2015," the Green MEP said in a tweet.

A view supported by the NGO Green 10, who state in an open letter that the new Commission "represents a clear relegation of environmental issues in the order of political priorities".

But others, like the French Greens, "celebrate the integration of the Energy and Climate Action portfolios".

The French Socialist Party also sees the merger in a positive light. "There is a real coherence in the merging of the two functions, which will help to reinforce the portfolio," insists Pervenche Berès, head of the French Socialist delegation in the European Parliament. She is, however, less sure about the man chosen for the job.

"Questions will be raised in the European Parliament about this choice," the MEP warns.

Clashes between the European Commission's energy and climate directorates-general, or DGs, caused frequent disruption in the outgoing EU executive team.

"DG Climate was de facto marginalised to the benefit of DG Energy. However, we have seen that the merging of these two subjects in the United Kingdom has had positive political consequences," says Thomas Spencer, director of the 'Climate' programme at The Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). He believes this merger could turn out well.

But the fact that Alenka Bratusek, Vice-President of the Commission, in charge of the Energy Union as well as the Climate Action and Energy position, clearly demonstrates that energy will be a higher priority than climate over the next five years.

"The rise of the energy issue to the political level of a Vice-President of the Commission is important. But we have to be clear what we mean by Energy Union. It runs the risk of being more a policy of infrastructure than of energy transition," Spencer stresses.

>>Read: Election of Donald Tusk puts EU climate position in doubt  

Next steps: The hearings

Commissioners-designate will face a thorough scrutiny by MEPs before the new European Commission can start its five-year term on 1 November.

The idea behind the hearings is to assess each candidate’s competence on the portfolio they have been assigned. Although MEPs can only vote on the Commission as a whole, Parliament’s concerns about candidate commissioners have in the past led to candidacies being withdrawn or portfolios being reassigned.

After each hearing, committees meet in camera to draft their evaluations of the candidate's expertise and performance, and then send it to the president of the Parliament.

Before the hearings each candidate will be asked to respond in writing to at least five questions by 26 September.

  • Two general questions common to all - the first on general competence, European commitment and personal independence, and the second on management of the portfolio and cooperation with Parliament.
  • Three questions from the committee responsible. Joint committees may also put an additional two questions each.

From 29 September, commissioners-designate will respond questions put in parliamentary committees dealing with the assigned responsibilities. These hearings will affect the Parliament’s vote on whether to approve the new Commission.

Before the hearings, each candidate will be asked to respond in writing to five questions by 26 September.

Sources close to the conference of presidents in the European Parliament say the proposed distribution of portfolios is broadly positive, in particular the attempt of restructuring the Commission based on priorities.

“What will play a crucial role in our assessment will be the commissioners designates’ commitment to our democratic values, the rule of law and which direction Europe should take,” Verhofstadt, referring to the hearings in the European Parliament.

The vice-presidents will have to face some sort of committee hearings, possibly jointly, with their fellow commissioners, who will take the day-to-day responsibility for the portfolios. But it does not exclude, sources say, being invited by the conference of presidents for separate interrogations on organisational issues of the portfolios, and their power to veto some proposals.

Jerzy Buzek, chair of the Conference of Committee chairs in the European Parliament, hopes that the candidates will be well prepared and will concentrate on the content of their work, instead of getting into ideological discussions.

Each hearing will last at least three hours, and commissioners-designate will have to respond to MEPs of multiple committees. If the committees are not satisfied with at least one candidate, extra hearings will be held.

The former President of the European Parliament assures that there is enough time for additional hearings, if necessary.

Parliament is expected to give green light to the full Commission at their vote in plenary session on October 22. The new Commission then could start work on November 1.

Positions

Cheap energy for consumers and industry alike is simply not possible when decisions, which could affect neighbouring Member States, are viewed through the prism of national political agendas. The first step is for national governments to relinquish their stranglehold over domestic energy policy, said Thomas Becker, Chief Executive Officer of the European Wind Energy Association (EWEA).

We currently have a system where 28 energy ministers are forced to do battle with 28 finance ministers, who in turn treat domestic energy sources as a cash cow to bolster the public coffers. Add to this, 28 regulators who set disparate standards and Europe's coordination on energy policy starts to look like a patchwork of inconsistency and contradiction, he added.

For a true European energy market to function, there must be a single EU competence over energy policy, a single supervisory body supported by a single resolution mechanism, and a common infrastructure fund to push forward on integration, he insisted.

“The directorate for public health (DG Sanco) took over the lead role for medicines and medical devices, only some years ago. Mr Juncker's announcement that these units will be moved back to DG Enterprise, is a step backwards," said former director of European Consumers Organisation BEUC, Jim Murray.

Marianne Thyssen, Europe’s newly-appointed Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility, has no time to lose in maximising the potential to create jobs across Europe, said Denis Pennel, managing director of Eurociett,  the European Confederation of Private Employment Services.

A key opportunity is to iron out labour market imperfections. The first is the mismatch and bottlenecks that result in an inefficient allocation of labour. 26 million people are currently unemployed across the EU28, but there are also one million unfilled vacancies, he added.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive, has evolved into dens of intrigue and bitter personality clashes. Above all, it has become an institution where individuals are not encouraged to speak up about its weaknesses or the incompetence of senior, tenured, and very well-paid staff, commented Carnegie Europe’s Judy Dempsey.

One wonders if Juncker’s new structure is aimed at cutting out the bureaucratic heaviness of the commission so he can deal directly with the vice-presidents and get things done faster. Whatever the reason for the rejigging, power struggles cannot be ruled out, added Dempsey.

Timeline

  • 29 September to 7 October: Hearings of Commissioners-designate and committee evaluation meetings; no hearings on Friday 3 October 2014 and on Monday 6 October 2014 in the morning
  • 7 October: Extraordinary meeting of the Conference of Committee Chairs to evaluate the outcome of the hearings
  • 8 to 9 October: The Groups will meet on Wednesday 8 October in the afternoon and on Thursday 9 October in the morning in order to evaluate the hearings.
  • 9 October: The Conference of Presidents meets to declare the hearings closed and finalise the evaluation
  • 22 October: Vote in Plenary

Further Reading

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<p>With 18 former ministers and prime ministers, the new Commission will be ‘a very political Commission, as incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said presenting his new executive.</p>

<p>If confirmed in a Parliament vote in October, the European Commission will take office on 1 November 2014.</p>

<p>&nbsp;</p>
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<p><a href="http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-984_en.htmhttp:/europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-984_en.htm">The Juncker Commission: A strong and experienced team standing for change</a></p>

<p><a href="http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission%20http:/ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission">Homepage of President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker</a></p>

<p><a href="http://ec.europa.eu/news/eu_explained/140715_en.htm">Political Guidelines for the Next European Comm'... (length=1302)
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