The New European Commission.
On 5 September the Council of Ministers, in agreement with Jean-Claude Juncker (who has the backing of a qualified majority of EU Member States and the European Parliament to be the next European Commission President), nominated one person from each Member State (bar Luxembourg, Juncker’s country of nationality) to be a Commissioner in the next European Commission. The next Commission will hold office 1 November 2014 – 31 October 2019.The EU treaties allow the European Commission President to decide the allocation of portfolios among Commissioners, as well as to lay down guidelines for the Commission’s work.
On 10 September, Juncker announced his proposed structure for the next Commission (http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-984_en.htm
).A key innovation proposed by Juncker is to create much more powerful Vice-Presidents of the Commission, who will ‘steer and coordinate’ the work of other Commissioners where it falls within their portfolio area
(more information on this intended structure can be found here: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-14-523_en.htm
). For instance, the agreement of the relevant Vice-President will be needed before a Commissioner can put a formal initiative (such as proposed EU legislation) to the College of all Commissioners for decision. Formally, the Commission takes a decision on whether to move ahead with any significant proposal by a simple majority of all Commissioners.Juncker has published ‘mission letters’ he has sent to each nominated Commissioner, setting out what he expects of them. These can be viewed here: http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/mission/index_en.htm. They include a good deal of text that is standard to all of them. This text stresses the overall importance of the “Political Guidelines” Juncker presented to the European Parliament in July, prior to it approving him as Commission President (this document can be seen here: http://ec.europa.eu/about/juncker-commission/docs/pg_en.pdf). In his mission letters, Juncker says these Guidelines are “akin to a political contract that I concluded with the European Parliament to…prioritise the work of the new Commission”. It is evident that Juncker has translated these Political Guidelines into the mandates he has given to the nominated Commissioners. As another signal of the strong influence the European Parliament is likely to have on the Juncker Commission, the mission letters also say: “The Commission’s relationship with the European Parliament is the source of our democratic legitimacy. This must, therefore, be a political and not a technocratic partnership.”The letters do also say that Juncker wants all Commissioners “…to be politically active in the Member States and in dialogues with citizens…I want all Commissioners to commit to a new partnership with national Parliaments: they deserve particular attention and I want…important proposals or initiatives to be presented and explained in national Parliaments by Members of the Commission.”Notable points emerging from the portfolio allocations and associated information include:· There will be a ‘First Vice-President’, effectively Juncker’s deputy. Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, who is on the centre-left, is nominated for this position. The First Vice-President will have two key roles. One is driving the ‘Better Regulation’ agenda, including ensuring that all Commission proposals comply with the principles of ‘subsidiarity’ and ‘proportionality’ ie. the action is better taken at EU rather than national or lower level and that it goes no further than what is necessary to achieve its objectives. Up to now the Commission’s concrete outputs on deregulation have been limited, and its respect for subsidiarity has been scant. The other role of the First Vice-President will be to uphold the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights in the Commission’s activities. It therefore seems that the next Commission will be even more zealous in promoting the EU’s interpretations of fundamental rights through its work eg. in making proposals for EU legislation. Juncker also wants the EU, in its own right, to press on and ratify the European Convention on Human Rights. This was enabled by the Lisbon Treaty but still requires the agreement of every Member State. EU accession to the ECHR would allow the EU to be taken to the European Court of Human Rights and require it to implement that Court’s rulings. Consequent changes to EU law would, as a rule, have to be implemented by the UK.· There will be six other Vice-Presidents:o Vice-President for Budget and Human Resources (Kristalina Georgieva):
Georgieva is the Bulgarian European Commissioner in the current Commission, responsible for humanitarian aid. She is affiliated to the Christian democrats at EU level. She will be responsible for vetting all Commission proposals for their budgetary and personnel implications.o High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Federica Mogherini):
Mogherini has been Italian Foreign Minister since February 2014 in the new Italian Government of Matteo Renzi. She is on the centre-left. The EU treaties require the High Representative to be appointed specifically, by a qualified majority of Member State leaders in agreement with the Commission President. Mogherini received this support at the end of last month. She will co-ordinate the work of those Commissioners responsible for activity relating directly to non-EU countries and international organisations, such as the Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
(Johannes Hahn, an Austrian Christian democrat) and the Commissioner for Trade
(Cecilia Malmström, a Swedish liberal). Juncker has said that there will be no further EU enlargement over the next 5 years, though enlargement negotiations will continue with those countries currently involved in them. He has also supported the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the EU and US, but in a form that “neither threatens Europe’s safety, health, social and data protection standards, nor jeopardises our cultural diversity”.o Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness (Jyrki Katainen):
Katainen was Finnish Prime Minister from 2011 until June 2014. He is a Christian democrat. Finland is a Eurozone country. Katainen will pursue a Jobs, Growth and Investment package and oversee the related work of several Commissioners, including:§ the Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility
(Marianne Thyssen, a Belgian Christian democrat): one of Thyssen’s tasks will be “promoting free movement of workers”.§ the Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs
(Elżbieta Bieńkowska, a Polish Christian democrat, though with a more economically liberal leaning): Bieńkowska’s tasks will include increasing the share of manufacturing in EU GDP by stimulating investment in new technologies and improving the business environment, and encouraging stronger co-operation between Member States on defence procurement.§ the Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union
(Jonathan Hill, a Briton and Conservative peer): Lord Hill’s tasks will include reviewing the EU’s financial services supervisory bodies established in 2011, which have been given significant powers over financial services across the EU, and bringing about “a well-regulated and integrated Capital Markets Union” across the entire EU by 2019. The Capital Markets Union concept remains vague at present; there is a danger it could herald another round of centralisation of power in EU bodies over financial services and markets in the EU (including the UK).o Vice-President for the Digital Single Market (Andrus Ansip):
Ansip was Estonian Prime Minister from 2005 until March 2014. He is a liberal. He will be responsible for driving ahead a more integrated ‘Digital Single Market’ in the EU and supporting the creative industries. A key Commissioner whose work he will oversee is the Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society
(Günther Oettinger, a German Christian democrat). Juncker has tasked Oettinger with quickly presenting “ambitious” legislative proposals “towards a connected Digital Single Market”, and says work should encompass telecoms, copyright and “aharmonised approach to radio spectrum between Member States”. It may be that some of the Commission’s new proposals will ensure market opening in other Member States that would be in the UK’s interests. On the other hand, there seems to be a risk of unnecessarily intrusive EU regulation; for instance, the Government has long resisted Commission attempts to give the EU control over radio spectrum management.o Vice-President for Energy Union (Alenka Bratušek): Bratušek was Prime Minister of Slovenia from March 2013 until May 2014. She is a centrist. Creating an EU ‘Energy Union’ is clearly one of Juncker’s priorities. To achieve this he has tasked Bratušek with completing the single market in energy (by connecting infrastructure and opening up competition), increasing energy security by diversifying energy sources and supply routes and “pooling our negotiating power”, and hitting certain targets for renewable energy, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reductions. A key Commissioner whose work she will oversee is the Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy (Miguel Arias Cañete, a Spanish Christian democrat), who will do much of the leg-work on this agenda. There is a risk that the Commission will try to increase EU control over Member States’ energy relations with non-EU countries. Juncker has also emphasised his wish to increase the share of renewable energy in the EU. Binding targets on Member States for their renewable energy use come 2020 have had a major impact on UK energy policy; the Government has been trying to resist attempts to impose new targets on Member States for 2030. Juncker has also said that he wants a “binding 30% objective for energy efficiency by 2030”; it is not clear if he will push for binding energy efficiency targets on individual Member States. The 23-24 October 2014 European Council summit is scheduled to reach political agreement on the EU climate and energy policy framework up to 2030.o Vice-President for the Euro and social dialogue (Valdis Dombrovskis):
Dombrovskis was the Prime Minister of Latvia from 2009 until January 2014. Latvia joined the Euro at the start of this year. Dombrovskis is on the centre-right (he is more economically liberal than the Christian democrats). Juncker says Dombrovskis’s task will include strengthening EU co-ordination of Member States’ economic and fiscal policies
(this would seem to include non-Eurozone countries, though the focus is on the Eurozone) and pursuing the trajectory of further Eurozone integration
set out in earlier reports from the Commission and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy. This further integration includes the idea of individual ‘contracts’ between Eurozone countries and EU institutions that would bind those countries into making certain economic reforms, perhaps sweetened by the provision of finance from a central Eurozone budget. The December 2013 European Council gave tentative agreement to this, but deferred more final decisions to proceed until the October 2014 European Council.
It is quite likely that an obligatory system of such contracts would require the UK’s agreement, given the use of the EU framework, which raises the prospect of the UK seeking EU treaty change in return for its consent. Whether the Eurozone (and France and Germany in particular) are ready to reach further agreement next month is not clear.
A key Commissioner overseen by Dombrovskis will be the Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Union
(Pierre Moscovici, a French socialist). Moscovici will help Dombrovskis reinforce the EU co-ordination of Member States’ economic and fiscal policies and will oversee the fiscal Stability and Growth Pact. Juncker has also given Moscovici responsibility for EU taxation policy
, saying that he wants this policy to “become part and parcel of a deep and genuine Economic and Monetary Union”. This raises fears of this EU-wide policy being driven by the perceived interests of the Eurozone.Dombrovskis will also guide some of the work of several other Commissioners, including the Internal Market Commissioner (Elżbieta Bieńkowska) and Financial Services Commissioner (Jonathan Hill).
This poses questions about the extent to which the Euro’s political direction will influence EU-wide policies. Lord Hill’s brief includes the Eurozone’s developing Banking Union, which is creating a more cohesive Eurozone interest in banking that could lead to bloc voting on such issues in the Council of Ministers, which would automatically outvote the UK and others under qualified majority voting.The relevant committees of the European Parliament will conduct hearings with the nominated Commissioners 29 September – 7 October.
More information on this is reported here:http://euobserver.com/institutional/125653
Under the EU treaties, the European Parliament must approve the nominated Commissioners (including the Commission President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs) as a body. In other words, MEPs do not have a formal power to block individual nominees. However, in practice strong opposition in the European Parliament has caused certain nominated Commissioners to be withdrawn in the past. It is expected that the European Parliament will vote on whether to approve the nominated Commission on 22 October.If the European Parliament’s agreement is obtained, the new Commission is then finally appointed by the European Council (composed of the leaders of all EU Member States), acting by qualified majority voting.
The European Council is meeting 23-24 October, so is presumably scheduled to give this approval then.
The EU treaties require European Commissioners to be chosen on the basis of their “general competence and European commitment”. They are obliged to be completely independent, not taking instructions from any government or other body. The Commission is tasked with promoting the “general interest” of the EU. Appointed European Commissioners must not hold any other office.
In most policy areas, the Commission has the sole right to propose new EU legislation, which then usually needs the approval of a qualified majority in the Council of Ministers as well as the approval of the European Parliament. It can take Member States to the EU Court of Justice for what it believes to be inadequate implementation of EU law. It also has various other executive and budgetary roles.