Friday

12th Aug 2022

Analysis

Success of Juncker team depends on 'uber-commissioners'

Incoming EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has come up with a canny distribution of portfolios for this new team but a layer of 'uber-commissioners' is potentially the most important change.

While rumours and speculation abounded ahead of Wednesday's official unveiling of the team, Juncker managed to surprise most onlookers with the finalised version.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Key jobs have been given to commissioners from eastern European member states and to women while Juncker himself, in contrast to out-going president Barroso, sees himself only as a "co-ordinator".

And while all commissioners were implicitly not equal in the outgoing commission, given the difficulty of finding meaningful tasks for 27 people, this has now been made explicit.

Dutchman Frans Timmermans will be "first vice-president" and will essentially have an enforcer role in the commission. He will be able to "stop any initiative" and can decide whether a proposed EU policy has the "right" to be put on to the political agenda.

He has to make this decision with the aim of reducing red tape in mind, with a key political signal from EU citizens in recent years that the commission should ease up on regulating.

But other brakes are in place too. The six other vice-presidents will also oversee teams of commissioners. No legislation is to make it through the commission bureaucracy without first having the green light from a vice-president.

If it works in practice - and much will depend on how judiciously the vice-presidents use their powers - the new structure should lead to a more effective day-to-day running of the commission where potential problems are spotted lower down the hierarchy rather than exploding at the top.

However there is great also great potential for overlapping roles, and a multitude of bosses.

This might mean that Juncker will have to bang heads together more than he had planned or at least more than his "I-don't-plan-to-be-a-dictator" statement indicated during Wednesday's press conference.

But if Juncker is indeed able to take a backseat role, it will give the commission a broader political stamp than the current one as Barroso tried to put his face to all of the key initiatives coming out of the commission.

A further noteworthy point for the new commission is that the German commissioner, Guenter Oettinger, was not given a major portfolio nor a vice-presidency (he is in charge of digital economy).

To have done so would likely have angered those who feel that Berlin's voice is already over amplified in EU political and economic decisions.

Nevertheless, there are sops to Berlin with Jyrki Katainen, an acknowledged fiscal hawk, a vice-president in charge of growth and jobs.

And while France got its coveted economic affairs post, its commissioner Pierre Moscovici will be overseen by both Katainen and another austerity-friendly vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis.

Juncker also avoided a fight with the UK by putting Lord Hill in charge of financial services - dear to London's heart and gave several other commissioners such as those from Greece (migration), Sweden (trade) and Ireland (agriculture) issues that are important domestically.

Meanwhile the environment and climate dossiers seems to have been downgraded having been merged with the maritime and energy portfolios respectively.

Enlargement too has been downgraded. Austria's Johannes Hahn will be in charge of "enlargement negotiations" rather than just enlargement as is currently the case. This reflects Juncker's statement in summer that the EU will not expand under this watch.

The least weighty dossiers have gone to Belgium's Marianne Thyssen (employment) and Hungary's Tibor Navracsics (citizenship).

The latter may face difficulties in the EP, which has to hear all commissioners, because he belongs to the increasingly authoritarian government of Viktor Orban. Meanwhile Spain's Miguel Arias Canete (energy) may also get a hard time from MEPs because of sexist comments he made earlier this year.

The new commission is due to go into force on 1 November. It will have five former prime ministers, and 19 former ministers and a slightly younger average age (53 years) than the outgoing Barroso team.

However with so many big egos on the team the success of the Juncker commission will depend on how smoothly the vice-presidents do their job and how well big political hitters in their former lives - but mere commissioners now - adjust to having a clear layer of authority over them.

Juncker set to unveil new commission

The new EU commission chief is to present his new team and their posts on Wednesday. Here is a round-up of the latest portfolio speculations.

Juncker's economic balancing act

Even Jean-Claude Juncker’s critics would agree that the new Commission president is a skilled deal-maker.

EUobserved

Death by 'hearings'

The hearings, the hearings. It's all about the hearings. Please make it stop. Or should that be start?

Column

Albania's post-communist dream has lessons for Ukraine

Comparisons between post-communist Albania and current-day Ukraine are fascinating — and make many pertinent parallels. Ukrainians have a similar determination to belong to "the rest of Europe" as Albanians.

Opinion

Finally, the victims of Utøya got a memorial

A legal battle between locals on the one hand and the state and the labour youth organisation on the other side postponed the inception of the memorial in remembrance of the victims of Anders Behring Breivik.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Latest News

  1. Defying Russian bombs, Ukraine football starts 2022 season
  2. Sweden to extradite man wanted by Turkey
  3. EU must beware Beijing's new charm offensive
  4. Forest fire near Bordeaux forces over 10,000 to flee
  5. Estonia and Latvia sever China club ties
  6. Russian coal embargo kicks in, as EU energy bills surge
  7. Only Western unity can stop Iran hostage-diplomacy
  8. Kosovo PM warns of renewed conflict with Serbia

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us