De Gucht will stand for EU election, but will not campaign

Karel De Gucht

EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht [EC]

Six EU Commissioners will stand for the European elections and will take leave to campaign. A seventh one, Belgium’s Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht, will not take leave, as he has no plans to campaign and will not take up his MEP seat if he is elected, the EU executive said.

Commission President José Manuel Barroso announced today (2 April) that seven Commissioners will be standing for election and that six will be taking electoral leave from their duties in order to participate actively in the election campaign.

  • Vice-President Viviane Reding, the Luxembourg commissioner for Justice and Fundamental rights will campaign for her Christian’s Social People’s Party (EPP-affiliated).
  • Vice-President Antonio Tajani, the Italian commissioner for Industry, will campaign for Berlusconi’s People of Freedom Party, EPP-affiliated.
  • Vice President Maroš Šef?ovi?, the Slovak commissioner responsible for Administration, will campaign for the party SMER-Social Democracy, PES-affilated. However he is not expected to take up his MEP seat, as he is also the candidate of his country to be Commissioner again.
  • Vice-President Olli Rehn, the Finnish commissioner responsible for economic and monetary affairs and the euro, will campaign for his liberal-affiliated Centre party.
  • Polish Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski, responsible for the budget, will campaign for the Civic Platform of Prime Minister Donald Tusk, EPP-affiliated.
  • Croatian commissioner Neven Mimica, responsible for consumer protection, will campaign for the Social Democratic Party, PES-affiliated.

All the six commissioners will take unpaid leave between 19 April and the last day of the elections in all 28 countries 25 May, except Rehn who takes a longer leave – from 7 April to 25 May.

Only Belgian Commissioner De Guch, who is affiliated to the liberal-affiliated Open-VLD party, will not take unpaid leave as he has no plans to campaign, although he appears on the list of his party for EU elections. Commission spokesperson Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen said that the Code of Conduct for Commissioners allowed for such an arrangement. In fact the Code of Conduct text doesn’t go in great detail.

Asked by EURACTIV if the case of De Gucht, who plans to run for elections but will not take leave is a precedent, Ahrenkilde Hansen said that Spanish Commissioner Loyola de Palacio (1999-2004) was probably a a similar case.

Barroso has decided that during their absence, the six commissioners will be replaced by other colleagues. He will himself replace Šef?ovi?, while Vice President Siim Kallas, responsible for transport, will replace Rehn. Also, Development commissioner Andris Piebalgs will replace Lewandowski, Regional policy commissioner Johannes Hahn will replace Reding, Internal market commissioner Michel Barnier will replace Tajani and Social affairs commissioner László Andor will take on the duties of Mimica.

If the commissioners are elected as MEPs, and if they decide to take this job, they will need to resign from the EU executive by the end of June.

According to the result of the European elections, Barroso will decide which of the commissioners will need to be replaced, as the current Commission is expected to stay on until November, when a new team is expected to take over.

According to past practice, EU countries have sent replacement commissioners for a short time, to the formation of the next executive.

Following the publication of this article, Antonio Gravili, spokesperson to Commissioner Maroš Šef?ovi?, told EURACTIV that there have been many examples of Commissioners campaigning or being involved in elections without taking unpaid leave.

He reminded that in September 2011, Commissioner Lewandowski had a 'limited' involvement in the Polish election campaign. He asked for permission, and Barroso granted it without requiring him to take unpaid electoral leave.

In January 2011, Vice-President Kallas informed Barroso of his desire to take a limited role in supporting his daughter's election campaign. While reminded that he must do this in a personal capacity, and not as a Commissioner, permission was nevertheless granted, without any requirement to take unpaid electoral leave.

In May 2010, Commissioner De Gucht was able to give passive support to his party, without going on unpaid electoral leave. He was the penultimate candidate on his Open-VLD party list for East Flanders province.

The exmples cited do not involve European elections, but the Code of Conduct makes no distinction between European and national elections, Gravili said. 

Subscribe to our newsletters