Wednesday

23rd Aug 2017

Four EU commissioners give up posts, become MEPs

  • EU parliament in Brussels: the post-election reshuffle is well under way (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Four out of the seven commissioners who were elected to the European Parliament quit their jobs on Tuesday (1 July) in order to become MEPs.

Luxembourg's Viviane Reding, until now commissioner for justice and fundamental rights, took up her MEP seat, along with economics commissioner Olli Rehn from Finland, industry commissioner Antonio Tajani of Italy, and Poland's Janusz Lewandowski, previously in charge of the EU budget.

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Outgoing commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso said their portfolios will be temporarily taken over by other commissioners, pending the hearings and appointment of their successors.

Siim Kalllas, Estonia's commissioner in charge of transport policies, is taking over the economics portfolio, while Austria's Johannes Hahn, responsible for regional policy, will also look after justice and fundamental rights.

Industrial policies are going to France's Michel Barnier, who is in charge of the single market and financial services, while development commissioner Andris Piebalgs of Latvia will oversee budget matters.

Three other commissioners who were elected to the EP have not given up their jobs, in the hope that their governments will send them again as commissioners in autumn: Slovakia's Maros Sefcovic (administration and inter-institutional relations), Croatia's Nevem Mimica (consumer protection) and Belgium's Karel De Gucht (trade).

As for the successors to the four commissioners who have just headed to the EP, Finland has nominated former Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen for the job, while Italy put forward Fernando Nelli Feroci, a career diplomat who was the country's permanent representative in Brussels until last year.

Poland nominated Jacek Dominik, a director within the European Investment Bank, and Luxembourg went with Martine Reicherts, a yoga teacher who works in the EU commission's publications department. Reicherts will step down once Jean-Claude Juncker, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, is elected EU commission president.

Barroso can put replacement commissioners in charge of portfolios different to their predecessors.

The four new commissioners have to pass through parliamentary hearings and two are expected to stay on in the new commission, as governments can also send someone else when the Barroso commission finishes its term in October.

Meanwhile, the commissioners from Germany and France - Guenther Oettinger and Michel Barnier - two of the commissioners who earned normal salaries of €20,000 per month, will get a boost of €3,150 per month until October as they have been upgraded to vice-presidents of the commission.

Oettinger is likely to stay on in the new commission, but it will be up to the new commission chief to decide whether to keep him as a vice-president.

Juncker, who is expected to be confirmed as the new commission president in a European Parliament vote on 16 July, will later that day meet with EU leaders in Brussels to discuss top posts within his team, notably the high representative for foreign and security policy, who is also vice-president of the commission.

A restructuring of the EU commission is also on the table, with France, Germany and Britain pushing for so-called cluster portfolios for big overarching topics in line with the priorities EU leaders would like to focus on: employment, migration, social protection, energy, and foreign affairs.

But smaller member states are wary of this restructuring and point to the EU treaty which says that all commissioners are equal.

Economics, trade, and energy portfolios are considered top dossiers, along with the foreign affairs portfolio.

Bulgaria's centre-right Kristalina Georgieva is one of the names floated for the foreign affairs post. An alternative candidate for the job is Slovakia's foreign minister Miroslav Lajcak, Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans, and Italian FM Federica Mogherini - all from the centre-left.

Spain and France, meanwhile, are eyeing the economics post or heading the Eurogroup, while Britain would like to get the trade portfolio for Andrew Lansley, the speaker of the House of Commons.

Poland, after seeing few chances to scoop the foreign policy post for Radek Sikorski, is after the energy dossier, something Germany is also eyeing.

Other countries are also maximising their chances by keeping their current commissioners: Romania is likely to send Dacian Ciolos - the current agriculture commissioner - for another term, while Austria is to keep Johannes Hahn, in charge of regional affairs.

Europeans more optimistic about EU since Brexit vote

Perceptions of the EU have increased significantly in France, and Europeans generally feel more optimistic about the future of the bloc since last autumn - despite Brexit and a surge in populism.

Opinion

Macron goes east to test appetite for EU integration

The next few months will be decisive in selecting who stays in the core of the EU and who stays behind, writes Tomas Prouza, a former state secretary for European Affairs of the Czech Republic.

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