On 9th September, Commission president Ursula von der Leyen presented the list of names and on the following day the portfolios of the other 26 EU Commissioners-designate. Various lists of names and allocations of the portfolios had already been circulating in the days before. However, the veil has been lifted and since 10th September we know who has been proposed for which job and that there will be some fundamental changes.
Key aspects and balancing acts
Frans Timmermans shall remain the first executive Vice President. With the subject area Green Deal for Europe, the Dutchman’s portfolio also includes one of the Commission’s key priorities. Apart from the competition policy, the Danish second executive Vice President Margarethe Vestager will in future also assume the digital portfolio. With her intention to appoint the Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis as the third executive Vice President in charge of the portfolio “Economy that Works for People”, von der Leyen attempts to create a geographical balance. For the first time, all three shall have direct access to the Directorates-General. Until now, this right was reserved only to those Commissioners, who were not also Vice President. The remaining non-executive five Vice Presidents shall also come from Central, Eastern and Southern European countries.
In her address to the European Parliament mid-July, von der Leyen had, apart from the geopolitical balance, also declared herself in favour of gender balance. She narrowly missed to achieve this by naming 13 female and 14 male Commissioners. Positive is the creation of an Equality Commissioner, a post, which will be held by Maltese Helena Dalli.
Responsibilities and first criticism
However, other nominations and responsibilities have already been met with clear criticism. For example, several MEPs have asked the question, what exactly is meant by Margaritis Schinas’ assignment “Protecting our European Way of Life” and why migration falls under this. The European Trade Union Confederation ETUC criticised the title as “absurd”. Not migrants are a danger for Europe, but the extreme right. It is our democracy that has to be defended and our climate and social standards, which have to be protected. Other critical voices inquired why the “defence industry” would become such a prominent field under the French Commissioner Sylvie Goulard. In addition, there is also personal criticism of some proposed candidates: the Hungarian László Trócsányi is an Orbán supporter, who backed the attacks on the rule of law in Hungary. The Romanian Rovana Plumb is faced with corruption allegations and the Pole Janusz Wojciechowski is being investigated by the EU anti-fraud agency.
The Pole is to be responsible for agricultural policy and will succeed Phil Hogan, who has been appointed Trade Commissioner. It is expected that he will be a tougher negotiator; however, there will hardly be any changes in content. Nevertheless, both sectors - trade and agricultural policy - require substantial changes towards a climate-neutral Europe. From the AK’s point of view it would for example be necessary to reform the EU trade agreements with regard to arbitration and enforceable sustainability chapters.
On a positive note one has to mention the nomination of the Luxembourger Nicolas Schmit for Employment and Social Affairs. During his time as Luxembourg Minister of Labour, Employment and the Social and Solidarity Economy he already has been a strong supporter of a social Europe.
It had been known in advance that the Spaniard Josep Borrell will replace Federica Mogherini as High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. This position is proposed by the European Council. The Austrian Johannes Hahn, for whom it will be the third term as EU Commissioner, will be in charge of ‘Budget and Administration’.
Party affiliation and Brexit
Based on the last nomination of the Italian Paolo Gentiloni, the Social Democrats with 10 people represent the highest number of Commissioners, 9 Commissioners originate from the European Peoples’ Parties. With 6 seats, the new Liberal Renew Group is also strongly represented. Added to these are Virginijus Sinkevičius (Lithuania) and Janusz Wojciechowski (Poland), who, based on the groups in the European Parliament, should logically be affiliated with the Greens and respectively the Conservatives and Reformers. Due to Brexit, Great Britain did not appoint a Commissioner. However, should Brexit be delayed again, von der Leyen will insist on a nomination.
What happens next?
During the months of September and October, the European Parliament will hold hearings to question all Commissioners-designate and finally vote on whether they approve of von der Leyen’s overall list or not. The Commissioners are interviewed by the parliamentary committee responsible for their portfolio. In the past, making a bad impression in the committee had already resulted in the withdrawal of candidatures. Finally, the European Parliament has to give its consent to the entire college of Commissioners-designate by majority vote. If everything goes according to plan the “Commission von der Leyen” would begin its work on 1st November.