4th Feb 2023

French EU commissioner may get internal market portfolio

  • Michel Barnier has already served as an EU commissioner (Photo: European Commission)

France is expecting to get the internal market and financial services portfolio in the next European Commission following its support for a Briton winning the post of EU foreign policy chief.

French daily Le Monde writes that Michel Barnier, a former farm minister who has already served as a EU commissioner, will also be a vice-president of the institution.

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The internal market dossier has never been held by a French national but Paris recently made it clear it would like to be in charge of the area following a five-year reign by Ireland's Charlie McCreevy, whose regulatory light-touch and strong belief in the good of free market forces has been source of irritation in the French capital.

The internal market post, always one of the key ones in the commission, has taken on more significance since the onset of the economic crisis, with some member states looking for ways to protect national industries and jobs.

Meanwhile, Britain, whose City of London is the centre of much international financial activity, has a strong interest in who is in charge of financial services - and had pushed to have it made a separate dossier.

Thursday's agreement by EU leaders on the names for the foreign policy post (UK trade commissioner Catherine Ashton) and president of the European Council (Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy) frees the hand of the commission president, Jose Manuel Barroso, to formulate his next team of commissioners.

The deal means that Britain has been taken out of the equation when it comes to handing out portfolios, while Belgium is unlikely to get a big dossier as it now holds the presidency.

Germany, which did not put any names forward for the two new top posts, is also looking for a weighty economic portfolio in the commission.

EU rules mean that it is up to Mr Barroso how to distribute the jobs - a task made more difficult by the fact that there are too few posts of significance to go around. While member states lobby to win for their national a prestigious portfolio, Mr Barroso will also be mindful that the team have to go through hearings in the European Parliament.

These are scheduled to take place in mid-January and last for two weeks allowing a final plenary vote to take place at the end of January and for the commission to take office on 1 February.

MEPs, however, are keen to display their powers. This, coupled with internal rivalries between the political groups in the parliament, could mean that some commissioner nominees face a hard time in parliament.

But Mr Barroso believes that he may at least be clear on one count - the number of women the college. On Thursday, he suggested the final number may be eight or nine of the 27-strong commission. This would match the current situation with MEPs recently having expressed disappointment that more women were not being suggested for top jobs in Brussels.

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