One of the toughest reactions to the leaked organigram of the next Commission team to be led by Jean-Claude Juncker came from another EU heavyweight, the Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.
Bildt tweeted Thursday (4 September) from the NATO summit in Wales “Rumours in Brussels that Juncker intends to abolish Commissioner for Enlargement. Very bad signal. Abdication of responsibility.”
The Swedish minister, who has 323,000 followers on Twitter, and came across the leaked organigram published by EurActiv via Twitter, is probably the only high-level EU official who has stated his mind, instead of saying that leaks should not be commented on.
Diplomats from Western Balkan countries who asked not to be named appeared surprised and worried by the absence of an enlargement portfolio in Juncker’s drafts.
Natasha Betraud, Juncker’s spokesperson, was pressed with journalistic questions yesterday over the matter. She replied by quoting Juncker from his speech in the European Parliament on 15 July, which he pronounced just before MEPs elected him to lead the European Commission starting 1 November.
Juncker said that no new countries were expected to join the Union over the next five years, but that ongoing accession negotiations would continue. He also said that Europe should be proud of its reunification, and that it was time to stop calling countries “old” and “new” members.
While it is true that no country has realistic chances to become EU member in the next five years, several have candidate status (Turkey, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania) and three of them are conducting accession negotiations (Turkey, Montenegro and Serbia). Iceland officially still has EU candidate status and has opened negotiations, but in fact has changed its plans and no longer seeks to join the Union.
It is unclear which commissioner would be in charge of the continued EU accession talks, and of the possibility of opening such with Macedonia and Albania. In theory, this could be High Representative Federica Mogherini, but her heavy agenda is unlikely to allow an active engagement on her behalf.
Faced with pressure, Juncker might create an enlargement portfolio and merge two others. One possibility would be to give the enlargement portfolio to Romania’s Corina Creţu. Thus, he could also better satisfy Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta, as reportedly the Humanitarian Aid portfolio set aside for her according to the leaks is seen as far too modest by Bucharest.
Juncker could merge "Humanitarian Aid" with "Development", boosting the planned portfolio of Slovakia’s Maroš Šefčovič, presently a Commission Vice President. If he was to get Development and lose the Vice President status, this would be seen as a disappointment in Bratislava. Or he could merge "Taxation" and "Customs" and give enlargement to Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva, previously seen as a possible High Representative and Vice President.
Juncker’s services published today the full list of commissioner-candidates, which contains no surprises. If EU countries accept it, the announcement of the distribution of the portfolios could be made as early as 9 September. But if one or more countries object, and even retract their candidate, the process could drag on longer.