19th Apr 2019

Brussels preparing for reshuffle of top jobs

  • Six months is a very long time in politics, with the future EU commission structure still unknown (Photo: incurable_hippie)

With over six months to go before the selection of a new European Commission and uncertainty on the Lisbon treaty looming over the process, speculation is in any case mounting over who will take the top jobs in Brussels for the next five years.

The current European Commission president, Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso, has publicly said he wants a second term, with several colleagues also keen to stay on.

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French justice commissioner Jacques Barrot, UK trade chief Catherine Ashton, Italy's transport commissioner Antonio Tajani and Dutch competition watchdog Neelie Kroes have all indicated they would like to remain in the EU executive.

Of the smaller countries, Greek environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, Czech social affairs head Vladimir Spidla, Austria's external relations chief Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Bulgarian consumer protection boss Meglena Kuneva, Finland's enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn and Estonian anti-fraud head Siim Kallas have also shown interest in staying at Brussels' top table.

The personal ambitions may be complicated by party politics and EU institutional reform, however.

The leader of the Party of European Socialists, MEP and former Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, is being mooted as a potential left-wing successor to the conservative Mr Barroso, if the centre-left political family wins the European Parliament elections in June 2009.

In the Netherlands, Ms Kroes is the second liberal commissioner in a row after Frits Bolkenstein, with the conservative Christian Democrats and the left-wing Labour party both keen on grabbing the Brussels post for themselves.

Dutch conservative names doing the rounds include ex-transport ministers and MEPs Hanja Maij-Weggen and Karla Peijs, as well as former agriculture minister Cees Veerman. Current Europe minister Frans Timmermans and ex-Europe minister Dick Benschop lead the Labour contenders.

At 72, French justice commissioner Jacques Barrot may be considered too old to come back, with the influential French agriculture minister and ex-commissioner Michel Barnier keen to take his place.

The new Solana

If the Lisbon treaty is eventually ratified, the post of external relations commissioner will cease to exist, giving way to a new EU foreign minister. Meanwhile, a hybrid commission portfolio of energy and climate change could be created.

The conservative Ms Ferrero-Waldner has been "lobbying heavily" to bag the new energy-climate job, EU officials say. But Austria's commission post may be filled by left-wing justice minister and former MEP Maria Berger, after her SDP faction won recent elections.

The current energy commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, is reportedly to rejoin Latvia's diplomatic service, while Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt and French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner are the latest favourites to take over from the 66-year old EU top diplomat, Javier Solana.

Among other new faces, Irish health minister Mary Harney is tipped to come to Brussels, with Ireland's current commissioner, internal market boss Charlie McCreevy, expected to take lucrative work in the private sector.

Belgium's political parties have also agreed to install the Flemish liberal foreign minister, Karel De Gucht, as the country's new man in the EU, after Walloon liberal aid commissioner Louis Michel departs.

With Germany's Gunther Verheugen (industry) and Poland's Danuta Huebner (regions) likely to leave the commission, the posts of two of the EU's largest member states remain wide open.

All you need is love

Mr Verheugen is said to be jaded after power struggles with his officials and a scandal over promoting his alleged lover, while Ms Huebner - a fluent Spanish speaker - is expected to go into industry or join her fiancé in Bilbao.

General elections in Germany in September complicate predictions. If the socialist SPD faction wins, it may put forward the leader of the European Parliament's socialist group, MEP Martin Schulz, as commissioner.

But in the event of a "grand coalition" or a conservative victory, German media have named conservative interior minister Wolfgang Schauble, former Bavaria president Edmund Stoiber, Hesse president Roland Koch, interior ministry official Peter Altmaier and economy ministry official Peter Hintze as candidates.

Meanwhile, insiders say European Parliament budget committee chair Janusz Lewandowski and former Polish prime minister turned banker, Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, lead the Polish pack. Another Polish premier turned MEP, Jerzy Buzek, is emerging as top contender for the job of European Parliament president.

Mr Bielecki would have to take a steep pay cut to come to Brussels, however. The CEO of Poland's Pekao bank earned over €800,000 in 2007, compared to a commissioner's income of just €220,000 per year.

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