New EU commission risks delay over gender issue

31.07.14 @ 15:25

  1. By Honor Mahony
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BRUSSELS - The incoming EU commission risks a start-up delay as male nominees for commissioner posts continue to roll in despite a plea for more women candidates.

  • Cecilia Malmstrom - one of the two women to be nominated for the next commission (Photo: cosilium.europa.eu)

So far only two of the official nominees are women - Sweden's Cecilia Malmstrom, currently serving as the home affairs commissioner, and Vera Jourova, the Czech Republic's regional development minister.

Italy's foreign minister Federica Mogherini is being put forward by Rome to be the next EU foreign policy chief. If she gets the post, she would automatically also become a vice-president of the commission.

Romania is also reportedly considering sending labour minister Rovana Plumb, while Bulgaria may re-send Kristalina Georgieva, although early elections mean the move is uncertain.

But most other countries, including Austria, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and the UK have all put forward men.

While some of the names were clear even before Jean-Claude Juncker, the incoming commission president, said at least nine of the 28 commissioners should be women, others were announced long after it was apparent that the gender issue was going to become a stumbling block.

France made its nomination - Pierre Moscovici, a former finance minister - just yesterday (30 July) as did Hungary.

"If no solution is found it may be that more time is needed to form the commission," Juncker's spokesperson said Thursday (31 July) in reaction to the gender imbalance.

Juncker has the power to assign portfolios but he is not the only player in the game.

The European Parliament has also made it clear that it will reject any commission team that has too few women.

Waiting for the High Representative

Meanwhile, the dynamics of the decision timetable is adding an extra twist to the process.

Who is in charge of what portfolio will not become clear until after 30 August, when EU leaders are due to decide on the foreign policy chief, which doubles as a commission post.

Only once this person is known will all the other slots fall into place.

This makes it likely that the end-of-August summit - which Juncker will also attend - will descend into a general scuffle about dossiers.

Juncker's task - he is using the month of August to "reflect" - is not made easier by there only being a handful of really weighty portfolios in the commission. And by the fact that several of the would-be commissioners were big players on the domestic scene - three of them to date are former prime ministers.

He is likely to reshuffle some of the current portfolios reflecting the different priorities for the coming five years. One report, by the FT, suggested he will split financial services off from the internal market dossier.

Giving an idea of the intense lobbying around the job, French nominee Moscovici wrote a long blog outlining his delight at being nominated and told Reuters that he was confident he would get an important economic dossier.

Once Juncker has made his decision, the commissioners then have to run the gauntlet of EP hearings. Formally, the parliament can only reject the commission as a whole but it has managed to pick off nominees it did not approve of in the past.

Among those who may come in for a hard time is the Hungarian nominee, foreign minister Tibor Navracsics. He is a former justice minister, who oversaw controversial media and justice legislation introduced by the Orban government.

The hearings are due at the end of September, while the new commission is supposed to be sworn into office at the beginning of November.