Wednesday

7th Dec 2022

Von der Leyen leads gender-balanced, 'geopolitical' team

  • Ursula on der Leyen presenting her team of commissioners - essentially 50 percent female (Photo: European Commission)

Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman ever elected to lead the EU commission, on Tuesday (10 September) put forward a team of nominees for commissioners, focusing on defence, climate, digital issues and democracy.

The former German defence minister introduced her "team of Europe", which has 13 female commissioners out of 27, the highest proportion in the EU's history.

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  • A full house welcomed von der Leyen in the commission press room (Photo: European Commission)

Von der Leyen said she wants her commission to be "flexible, modern, agile," and engage with Europeans by making sure all commissioners visit all member states before the end of the first half of their mandate.

"I want a commission that provides answers," she said.

The team will need confirmation by the European Parliament in the coming weeks before taking office on 1 November.

Von der Leyen stuck to the earlier set-up of the Juncker-commission by nominating eight vice presidents and three executive vice presidents, from different parties and regions of Europe, to oversee large policy areas, coordinate commissioners, and bridge topics that are relevant in several policies.

VIPs

An executive vice-president focused on climate change will go to the current vice-president of the EU commission, Frans Timmermans, the former socialist candidate for the commission top post, who will also be responsible for a European "green deal" and for the climate action portfolio.

"At the heart of it is our commitment to becoming the world's first climate-neutral continent," von der Leyen said.

Another executive VP post will be held by Danish competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who will also hold onto enforcing EU competitions and anti-trust rules.

The competition portfolio had earned her global prominence and prompted US president Donald Trump to call her the "tax lady" for cracking down on US internet giants.

Vestager will also deal with everything digital in Europe.

Latvian Valdis Dobrovskis, current vice-president in charge of the euro and finance will get the convoluted title of "an economy that works for people" as executive VP, and his job will include financial services and social issues.

Former Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni will be commissioner for the economy, as von der Leyen wants to relaunch relations with Rome after the fall of the previous EU-sceptic government in Italy.

Spain's Joseph Borell will be foreign affairs chief, as agreed by EU leaders, another VP position. Von der Leyen wants the commission to be "geopolitical", and more "strategic, more assertive and more united" in its foreign policy approach.

Values

Current Czech commissioner Vera Jourova will be responsible for "values and transparency" as vice-president.

She will partly oversee rule of law issues - which is von der Leyen's gesture towards the central and eastern European countries, where Poland and Hungary had felt politically-targeted by the Juncker commission over their controversial judicial reforms, sliding democratic norms and migration policies.

Jourova, however, will mostly focus on reforming the lead candidate system, transnational lists, electoral law, threats of external intervention in EU elections, disinformation, and media pluralism.

It will be Belgian foreign and defence minister Didier Reynders as new justice commissioner who will focus on rule of law, enforcing EU court decisions, and deal with reluctant member states such as Poland and Hungary.

Euphemistic names

Some of the titles for von der Leyen's vice-presidents sound curious, and one of the more intriguing ones went to the Greek executive VP, Margaritas Schinas, the former spokesman for the Juncker commission.

"Protecting our European way of life" echoes the campaign line that had been used by the conservative lead candidate in the European elections, Manfred Weber, who hails from the same EPP party grouping as Schinas.

The portfolio includes security and migration, raised questions whether that the von der Leyen commission views migration as a threat.

The day-to-day management of migration files and the extremely difficult and divisive asylum reform will lay with Sweden's Ylva Johansson.

Slovakia's Maros Sefcovic will be vice president for inter-institutional affairs, meaning deal with the European and national parliaments. Von der Leyen committed to cut red tape by introducing the "one in, one out rule", meaning for every new legislation one has to go.

Looking outside

Former French defence minister Sylvie Goulard will be commissioner for the internal market and also overseeing a new directorate-general for defence industry and space.

Von der Leyen said the "EU will never be a military alliance," but said that procurements will have to be done jointly to be more effective.

Trade issues will be deal with by Irish commissioner Phil Hogan, who will probably also oversee trade negotiations with the UK once Britain leaves the EU. Von der Leyen said "the EU should be the "guardian of multilateralism" in the world increasingly torn by protectionist trade policies.

Enlargement will go to Hungary's former justice minister Laszlo Trocsany, who had overseen some of the controversial domestic legislation in Hungary, which ended up in the EU's top court after the Juncker commission challenged those measures that infringed EU rules.

Internal issues

Dubravka Suica, a former mayor of Dobrovnik, Croatia, will be vice-president for "democracy and demography", which will deal with issues of ageing, brain drain, and vision for rural areas.

Von der Leyen argued that the voters' frustration and anger at democracy come from the feeling of being left behind, cut off or isolated due to lack of public transportation, post offices, schools. It will Siuca's job to find a way to tackle those issues.

Luxembourg's Nicolas Schmit will focus on job creation, Janusz Wojciechowski from Poland will get agriculture, Portugal's Elisa Ferreira will focus on cohesion policies, and Johannes Hahn of Austria will be dealing with the budget issues.

Stella Kyriakides from Cyprus will get the health portfolio, while Bulgaria's Mariya Gabriel will move from digital to dealing with innovation and youth.

Slovenia's Janez Lenarcic will get crisis management, and Finland's Jutta Urpilainen will focus on international aid, and partnerships.

Kadri Simson of Estonia, will serve as energy commissioner, and 28-year old Lithuanian Virginijus Sinkevicius will be responsible for fisheries and environment.

Romania's Rovana Plumb could get transportation, Malta's Helena Dalli will focus on equality, gender, gender-based violence, disabilities, and the fight against discrimination.

'Migration' is now 'protecting European way of life'

The upcoming European Commission has shuffled migration policy into a euphemistic new "Protecting our European Way of Life" European commissioner portfolio, headed by former spokesman Margartis Schinas. Some MEPs are not happy.

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Informal interviews with von der Leyen, hearings with parliamentary committees, and votes in the EU parliament and Council await the 26 candidates.

Orban praises von der Leyen after first face-to-face

The EU Commission president-elect said she had a "good talk" with Hungary's controversial premier. Orban returned the praise, saying said the former German defence minister "thinks with [a] central Europeans' head".

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Safeguarding Europe's position starts with recognising the unpleasant reality that Europe's power is waning. Behind the facade of European cooperation, national self-interest still predominates and that has never been any different.

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