Thursday

22nd Feb 2024

'Political' commission starts work with nod to past

  • Jean-Claude Juncker - his will be the "last chance" commission he recently told MEPs (Photo: European Parliament)

The new European Commission started work Monday (3 November) amid promises to be more political by making commissioners defend new laws to the public.

President Jean-Claude Juncker, a veteran EU politician who regularly speaks off the cuff and who has referred to his mandate as the “last chance” commission, wants it to shake off its technocratic image.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

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

... or subscribe as a group

Practically this will mean getting his 27 commissioners to get out of their offices to present new policies and ideas.

“We will strive to have more commissioners coming in person in this press room,” said spokesperson Margaritis Schinas.

“I am confident that on Wednesday I will have either president Juncker or first vice-president (Frans) Timmermans (in the press room)" he said referring to the traditional midweek meetings when the commission decides on policies.

But commissioners will also be given free rein to be opinionated across the board.

Danish commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition, told Politiken newspaper that Juncker has “very clearly asked us commissioners to take up some of the debate in our home countries. Also if it is outside of our working area.”

She mentioned her country’s eventual referendum on its justice and home affairs opt-out as one area where she could take a stand.

EU figures of the past

Juncker himself has also chosen a very political start to his presidency by opting to spend his first working day in Frankfurt for the launch of former German chancellor Helmut Kohl's book - a book that is notable for its criticism of the EU's handling of Russia as well as the original decision to let Greece join the eurozone.

He will round off the week by taking part in a debate with another figure considered part of the EU's yesteryear - former commission president Jacques Delors.

Both the German and the French politicians were in power in an era when the Franco-German engine (considered essential for the political survival of Europe) was running smoothly and when the commission was working in tandem with Paris and Berlin.

Alongside the shaken-up commission executive with its more hands-off president and new system of seven powerful vice-presidents, comes a more streamlined spokesperson service - again to push commissioners to take the mic more often.

From the over 40 spokespeople belonging to the previous Barroso commission, there will be just 12 covering several portfolios at once, of which the majority (7) is female and several (5) are former journalists. The head spokesperson is Greek while the rest of the team span 10 nationalities.

Political headaches looming

But although the commission has just taken office, the first political headaches are already looming.

One is Juncker's promised €300bn investment package, his flagship policy to tackle the EU's low growth and high unemployment.

While there have been many positive comments about the idea, it has been less clear where the money will come from.

Spokesperson Schinas said "before we talk about the presentation of this package, we have to make sure we have content."

"We are doing our upmost to make sure this commitment will be kept," he said about Juncker's plans to present the fund before Christmas.

Another highly sensitive issue is the €2.1bn surcharge to the UK's EU budget bill, which London is refusing to pay by the 1 December deadline.

Schinas noted that the deadline was "binding". He also noted that the rules in question - the implementing of own resources regulation - provides for very "specific legal obligations" and that for the whole budgetary procedure to stay "in tune", including the EU's own requirement of having balanced books, "everybody has to pay what is due".

EU budget commissioner Kristaline Georgieva will head up the contentious talks, with Schinas noting that "if fines are not paid by 1 December there is a process of interest-paying accumulated."

Meanwhile commission watchers will get their first glimpse of how the body's new internal architecture will work in practice on Tuesday when Jyrki Katainen, vice-president in charge of jobs and growth, and Pierre Moscovici, in charge of economic affairs, give a joint press conference on the economic forecasts for the EU.

One of the re-occurring questions concerning the new structure is whether it will lead to more or less infighting as the commissioners - several of whom were big hitters in former lives - work under a more hierarchical system.

Cameron vows to reject €2 billion EU bill

UK PM Cameron vowed to oppose "in every way possible" an extra €2.1 billion EU budget bill, in a which row dominated the second day of a summit in Brussels.

Juncker gives glimpse of 'political commission'

New EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has vowed to defend his institution from "unjustified attacks" from EU leaders, as he chaired the first meeting of the College of commissioners.

Analysis

Almost 20 names in running for EU top jobs

With four months until the European Parliament elections, there are already some 20 names in the hat for the ensuing reshuffle of EU top jobs.

Feature

Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza

Despite the high risk of dying from war, starvation or disease, Gazans are still not allowed to enter Egypt. Except those who bribe the authorities. And the EU mission EUBAM Rafah cannot be deployed due to security reasons.

'Nightmare' 2024 sees Orbán struggle ahead of EU elections

Viktor Orbán admits that 2024 "could not have started any worse" for his government. The sex-abuse scandal that led to the resignation of the president provides an opportunity for Hungary's opposition — but their fragmentation could be a major obstacle.

Latest News

  1. How Amazon lobbyists could be banned from Parliament
  2. Blackmailing the Global South on EU carbon border tax won't work
  3. EU auditors: rule-of-law budget protections only partial success
  4. EU's €723bn Covid recovery fund saw growth, but doubts remain
  5. Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR
  6. Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist
  7. Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"
  8. Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us