Even if the Commissioners-designate have not taken office yet, the so-called mission letters provide an outlook for the future departments and priorities, which the new Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has awarded to the 26 candidates.
Three Executive Vice-Presidents
Ursula von der Leyen has appointed eight Vice-Presidents for her College. In their capacity as Executive Vice-Presidents, three of them shall hold a special position, as they will be responsible for the implementation of the top priorities of the new Commission. Frans Timmermans is responsible for the new Green Deal and is to submit a European Climate Law within the first 100 days of his mandate. Margrethe Vestager’s task is to make Europe fit for the digital age. She is to present a European approach to Artificial Intelligence within the first 100 days.
The topic Valdis Dombrovskis has been assigned to is a European social market economy, “an economy that works for people”. Under the guidelines Stability, Jobs, Growth and Investment the Latvian is responsible for a diverse portfolio, boosting his influence in the new Commission. In concrete terms, his responsibilities will include among other the deepening of the Economic and Monetary Union, the European Semester, Social Dialogue and the continued implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Some MEPs criticised that Dombrovskis’ appointment meant that another representative with EPP background had been elevated to the highest management level of the Commission, which does not correspond to the balance of power of the election results. From the AK’s point of view, the “one in, one out” principle is also heavily problematic, even more so because it is enshrined in the mission letters of all Commissioners-designate: Once more, one has to fear pressure on sensible and useful legislation with regard to social affairs and the environment.
Outlook for social and employment policy
Nicolas Schmit, currently MEP from Luxembourg in the S&D group, shall be entrusted with the employment and social policy portfolio – called “Jobs” in short. He succeeds the Belgian Marianne Thyssen, who had been responsible for “Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility”. The mission letter refers to the fact that the crisis had exposed gaps in social and welfare systems, which had to be closed. Due to the fact that in particular young people and children are affected by social exclusion and poverty, the Youth Guarantee shall be reinforced and a Child Guarantee developed. The European Pillar of Social Rights shall be implemented within the scope of an action plan. Also mentioned is the support of the newly founded European Labour Authority.
Minimum standards – but how?
Every worker in Europe shall be paid a “fair wage” ensured by a “legal instrument” Schmit has been asked to submit. The mission letter refers to either collective agreements or legal provisions, reflecting the different wage levels and traditions of Member States. The European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme is equally mentioned in the mission letter: In cooperation with Commissioner-designate for Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, a European Reinsurance Scheme shall be developed. The AK suggests a different approach, namely European minimum standards for the European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme.
The mission letter also refers to improving social protection- not by putting forward hard legislation but rather by sticking to soft policy instruments like the European Semester.
Focus on personal responsibility of the working individual
Even if the mission letter dedicates one line to labour representatives and Social Dialogue, it becomes apparent that the focus lies on individuals of working age. Workers are to improve their skills and should be supported by individual learning accounts and ‘quality-assured training’. Skills are also relevant for the just transition: new, green and digitalised workplaces require new skills. In the description of the European Social Fund 2021-2027, the future make-up of social and employment policy, geared towards productivity and full-time employment, is particularly well depicted: Funds are to be used for creating jobs, improving productivity at work and for enhancing labour mobility. On the other hand, apart from a reference to the European Pillar of Social Rights, the quality of jobs and the fight against increasing precariousness has not been addressed.
By appointing her College, it is obvious that Ursula von der Leyen strikes out in a new direction. Equipping the great priorities Green Deal and Digitalisation with relevant posts and resources and streamlining them into all policy areas seems reasonable. However, the priority of a ‘social triple-A’ pursued by the Juncker Commission with the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights as its core piece seems to be fading. While recognising that many people in Europe find it difficult to cope with globalisation and digitalisation processes and have been left behind, concrete answers on how to implement change are still lacking. One can only hope that progressive MEPs make their voices heard when they question the candidates during the hearings.
The latter will take place in the European Parliament’s Committees, starting on 30th September.