Thursday

2nd Feb 2023

EUobserved

And then there was Frans

  • Timmermans - Juncker's right (and left) hand (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

On Tuesday afternoon, at approximately 2.30pm Brussels time, the clouds parted. The sun broke out and through its rays it was possible to see ... Frans Timmermans.

The Dutchman, apparently floating a few feet above ground, glided into the European Parliament for his hearing.

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It was almost a month to the day that Jean-Claude Juncker informed those listening that Frans would be his right hand and, somewhat alarmingly, his deputy if he could not be "mentally" present.

So what would he, Frans Timmermans, *first* vice-president, and in possession of a job description that appears to be the result of a random word association game (plus perhaps a little sustainable development), actually say.

Well, what didn't he say.

There was music for everybody's ears.

Pro-EU, but going to stop it from being meddlesome. A cull-er of legislation, but not social standards. Tough on crime, but also on upholding human rights. Pro-transparency. Champion of national parliaments, but respectful of MEPs. Prepared (in principle) to be as hard-hitting as Victoria Nuland on Hungary. Centre-left. But centre-left from a penny-loving northern EU state. A rescuer of (EU-) disaffected citizens.

He had MEPs by the first question - answering in Italian (it was, for a while, a moot point whether anyone was listening to the answers so much as wondering what language was coming next).

And nailed their affections by knowing the difference between delegated and implementing acts.

For the centre-left he was, clearly, a "tour de force". The centre-right did some pro-forma finger wagging to the tune of actions being louder than words. The greens expressed some mild reservations about potentially over-zealous law-pruning.

When the dust settled, the back-slapping stopped, it became clear that his role as top vice-president of the EU commission was quite as unclear as when he entered the room.

But too late, he'd already gone.

"No worries there," the enforcer-in-chief stated at one point. He would make it so that all of the commission's goals were achieved with the new two-tier system.

He would not be a "sheriff", he would work with his colleagues to find a common agreement on everything.

So ended 27 (and a half) hearings across 7 days. The de facto two-tier commission had been denied by everybody. No one has a veto. (Although some clearly - Moscovici / Oettinger - wish they had).

It's all about consensus-building; working across departments; and no hierarchies. In fact, it's all resoundingly vague. (Who will represent the eurozone at IMF and G-20 meetings? Ach that'll be decided on the day).

But with all these co-ordinators around - and Juncker set to be the most hands-off commission president ever - who will actually be taking the decisions?

The one with the clearest overview of what is going on in the commission. The one across whose desk every law will pass ...

"No worries there," he says.

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