The incoming commissioner for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, is planning to hire Dutch Prince Constantijn for her cabinet, despite pressure to reduce nations' hold over the top political levels of the European Commission.
Constantjin, the youngest son of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, is expected to help Commissioner Kroes to develop her digital agenda. The new cabinet is set to take office on 10 February, together with the new Commission as a whole.
The appointment of Constantjin is a cause for concern in Brussels, since it comes just as the EU executive is trying to make the cabinets of commissioners less nationally-oriented (EurActiv 21/01/10).
To a cabinet meant to be multinational and free of national pressures, Kroes decided to appoint one the most prominent symbols of Dutch interests.
Top Commission officials dismissed concerns over conflict of interest and disregarded the contradictory nature of hiring a prince to serve EU interests. "What matters is that rules are applied," said a Commission spokesperson.
According to current rules, each cabinet should have at least three different nationalities out of a maximum of eight members, including one of either the head or deputy head of cabinet, and the spokesperson should not hold the same nationality as the commissioner. There is no mention of the unsuitability of royal family members.
Kroes is not the first Dutch commissioner to maintain close links to the crown. Indeed, Prince Constantijn has already served as a cabinet member of a Dutch commissioner. He worked for Hans van den Broek in the Commission chaired by Jacques Santer, until the entire college was forced to resign amid accusations of financial fraud and nepotism.
In the meantime, one of the daughters of Hans van den Broek married Prince Maurits, the son of one of Queen Beatrix's sisters.
Neelie Kroes is not new to debates over conflict of interest. When she was designated commissioner for competition in 2004, she had to go through a tough grilling in the European Parliament to demonstrate her independence, and pledged to observe a "cooling down" period of one year during which she had to avoid making antitrust decisions involving companies she had dealt with (EurActiv 05/10/04).
Before becoming commissioner, Kroes sat on many boards of powerful companies, ranging from the shipping to the financial sector.
Her new appointment as commissioner for the digital agenda had not raised conflict of interest issues before her plans to hire the prince. However, Kroes was under attack in the Parliament for her alleged lack of preparation, which unusually forced her to endure a second hearing (EurActiv 18/01/10).
Based on candidates submitted by each country, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso distributed portfolios within his new team, which will consist of 27 members, one for each member state (EurActiv 27/11/09).
Commissioners do not represent their countries. However, both in Eastern and Western Europe, the post continues to be seen as the most senior national position in the EU executive.
'Cabinets' are political bodies made up of the commissioners' closest advisers. They are chaired by a head of cabinet, and their positions are communicated externally by a spokesperson.
The new Commission is expected to take office on 10 February, subject to its approval by the European Parliament during a plenary session on 9 February.
- 3 Feb. 2010: Kristalina Georgieva's hearing.
- 9 Feb. 2010: European Parliament vote on new Commission.
- 10 Feb. 2010: New European Commission expected to take office; members of cabinet announced.