Screening the new Commission
After the appointment of Mr. Juncker as President it was then the turn of the new Commissioners to be screened by the European Parliament. The path for the new Commission is now open and it will start its term on 1 November.
Following an EU-wide election campaign, Jean-Claude Juncker was proposed as candidate for President of the European Commission by the European Council on 27 June 2014. The European Council ignored the refusal of UK Prime Minister James Cameron and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to support Mr Juncker’s appointment.
On 5 September, he sent the list of Commissioners-designate to the Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in his capacity as the rotating President of the Council of the European Union. This followed a series of interviews that President-elect Juncker held with each of the candidates for Commissioner, and the proposal for the appointment, on 30 August, of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Federica Mogherini.
Applicants were backed by the European Parliament between 22 September and 5 October in a series of public hearings in the parliamentary committees followed by approval as a whole in a plenary session.
After ten days of hearings in the parliamentary committees, the risk of an open crisis between the incoming head of the EU executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, and MEPs disappeared. Only the Slovenian, Alenka Bratušek, who should have received the Energy Union vice-presidency, was taken out of the game. Her performance during the hearings did not convince anyone; besides, she was dropped even by her own camp (liberals).
The Commission President-elect proposed a new list following the European Parliament's rejection of the Slovenian nominee to the European Commission. Mr Juncker proposed that Slovenia's substitute candidate, Violeta Bulc would take the transport portfolio on his team. The Slovak nominee, Maroš Šefčovič, would take the vice presidency for energy originally offered to Bratušek.
The plenary of the EP approved the new European Commission on 22 October in Strasbourg so that the new College is already operational on 1st November.
In the Juncker Commission, there are six Vice-Presidents in addition to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who is at the same time a Vice-President of the Commission. There is a First Vice-President, in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Dutchman Frans Timmermans. The First Vice-President will act as the right-hand of the President.
The new structure will reinforce the presidential role in the Commission as Mr. Juncker will supervise the work of the Commissioners through the 6 Vice-presidents. This is different from Barroso’s Commission where each Commissioner operated on a more independent basis. But this is not yet fully clear and it can lead to interference: for example during the hearing of Mr. Šefčovič, the candidate for the vice-presidency on Energy, he was asked the concrete question on who will represent the EU at COP 21 (the UN Conference on climate change that will take place in Paris, 2015). He answered that he would be there, but that the whole Commission should be involved in the negotiations and that in fact “it doesn’t matter which commissioner will attend the talks”.
The answer of Mr. Šefčovič raised doubts among the MEPs, not only because the role of the new Commissioner on Climate Change, Miguel Arias Cañete, is diluted but also because it looks like a loss of negotiation capacity and leadership of the Commission on these topics.
The new structure of the Commission is clearly something to be tested in the coming months.
Following two weeks of debates, the six future commissioners who faced difficulties during their hearings, were all 'rescued' at voting. The Spaniard Miguel Arias Cañete, tipped for the post of energy commissioner and leading candidate of the conservatives, was criticised by the Left for his ties with the oil business community but even so he became the first candidate to have his position confirmed.
This paved the way for French politician Pierre Moscovici, put forward for the post of Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs and candidate of the Social Democrats, who faced questions of legitimacy raised by the EPP.
The hearing process for members of the new Commission focuses on assessment of the competencies of the candidates, their European commitment, as well as their independence, making that process more open and transparent and improving democratic oversight of the EU.
Furthermore, President-elect Juncker has demonstrated strong capacities as a negotiator, being able to have the team ready by 1 November. Mr Juncker has also been a shrewd player: in a gesture of generosity to those who voted against him, like David Cameron, he has offered the new UK commissioner, the Eurosceptic Jonathan Hill, the portfolio of financial services, appreciated in the City.
The design of this Commission delivers a strong message: Mr. Juncker wants an efficient and operational Commission under his leadership, and this is very good news. The future of the Union demands a proactive Commission.