17th Jul 2019

Juncker's economic balancing act

  • France's Pierre Moscovici is one of three commissioners set to do battle over EU economic policy (Photo:

Even Jean-Claude Juncker’s critics would agree that the new Commission president is a skilled deal-maker. His division of portfolios for the new look EU executive announced on Wednesday (10 September) is a masterclass in giving countries what they wanted, while maintaining a careful political balancing act.

No where is this more apparent than in the economic and financial fields.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The first thing to observe about Juncker’s economy-related commissioners is that there will be more of them. Between four and five Commission portfolios – depending on whether you count competition – Jyrki Katainen, Valdis Dombrovskis, Pierre Moscovici, Jonathan Hill and Margrethe Vestager are primarily devoted to economic policy, one post more than in Jose Manuel Barroso’s two administrations.

The battle for the prime economic portfolios was waged between Berlin and Paris during the summer, particularly over who would get control of the eurozone policy making in the Berlaymont.

France, whose budget deficit has stubbornly refused to fall despite being given a two year extension, has been one of the countries campaigning for the new Commission to apply the EU’s rules on debts and deficits more generously to allow countries more room for investments.

For his part, German finance minister Wolfgang Schaueble has repeatedly expressed reservations about a French socialist getting the job when the country’s deficit is set to remain above the EU’s 3 percent limit until 2017.

Faced with this conundrum Juncker has struck a neat compromise.

Dombrovkis will assume control of the so-called European semester, which includes the enforcement of the bloc’s economic governance rules, as Commissioner for the euro and social dialogue.

Jyrki Katainen, who replaced fellow countryman Olli Rehn, himself also a fiscal hawk, in the economic and monetary affairs portfolio, is to become a vice-president in charge of growth and jobs.

The Finn is also likely to be put in charge of the flagship €300 billion investment programme which Juncker promised during his election campaign.

Meanwhile, France, not to mention Europe’s left, gets the economic affairs post it had wanted. Pierre Moscovici is responsible for macro-economics as well as taxation and customs, a move described by Gianni Pitella, leader of the Socialist MEP group, as “a clear indication that Europe has turned the page of austerity”.

Moscovici will also represent the Commission at the monthly meetings of the Eurogroup of finance ministers.

But before Europe’s supporters of Keynesian economics get out the bunting, it should be pointed out that both Katainen and the equally keen austerity advocate Dombrovskis have superior status inside the College as two of the Commission’s seven vice-presidents.

In particular, Dombrovskis will effectively be Moscovici’s ‘line-manager’ with the power to block any proposals from within his department, which has already prompted indignation from some French MEPs that their man will be neutered.

Juncker and his press team referred to the Commission structure as a mix of “team leaders and team players” but it remains to be seen whether these three big beasts – two former prime ministers and a finance minister – will be able to co-exist peacefully.

Of the four posts, the only real stand-alone portfolio is financial services, surprisingly given to the UK’s Jonathan Hill, and which will also include the banking union regime. Hill’s appointment is an act of magnanimity by Juncker - who told reporters that it reflected the fact that there were "no hard feelings" between himself and David Cameron.

It is also a major concession to the eurozone and banking union 'outs' with a spokesman for Cameron commenting that the move would help ensure that “the voice of countries that are not in euro and will not join the euro - such as the UK - are fully represented."

It may pacify Cameron's Conservative-dominated government and the UK's large financial services lobby, but Hill is one of the Commission nominees likely to face a tricky time during his hearing by MEPs because of his background as a lobbyist.

Sven Giegold, the Green group's spokesman on the committee, described the appointment as a "provocation", and he won't be alone in that sentiment, particularly among left-leaning deputies.

"This is by far the most political college (in recent years)", a Commission official told reporters on Wednesday. Very true, but can such a mixture of ideologues exist in the same team?


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.

News in Brief

  1. Ansip's ex-cabinet chief to head EU cybersecurity agency
  2. Malta starts trial of journalist murder suspects
  3. Full text of von der Leyen candidacy speech to MEPs
  4. Von der Leyen open to further Brexit delay
  5. Von der Leyen promises carbon border tax
  6. Brexit: both UK PM candidates say Irish backstop is 'dead'
  7. Mogherini: Iran's nuclear enrichment 'reversible'
  8. Report: Selmayr to leave 'next week'


Weber: Six proposals in wake of Spitzenkandidat process

I will not lament the decision-making process that resulted in a package deal on the new leadership in Europe. I respect this result, which was in accordance with the treaties and therefore not undemocratic, albeit unsatisfactory.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  5. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  7. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  8. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  9. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  10. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North

Latest News

  1. European Commission has first ever woman president
  2. Son: Malta trial for murdered journalist 'not enough'
  3. Von der Leyen's final appeal to secure top EU post
  4. EU talks tough on Turkey, but arms sales go on
  5. The Abortion Exodus - more Poles and Croats going abroad
  6. Poland's ex-PM loses EU parliament chair again
  7. Von der Leyen reaches out to left and liberal MEPs
  8. Farmers among new MEPs deciding on EU farming money

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  3. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  4. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  7. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  12. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us