Why is Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič taking unpaid leave to run in the Slovak presidential election, while First Vice President Frans Timmermans, who is the Spitzenkandidat for the European elections, is keeping his seat at the Berlaymont?
Timmermans is far from being the only Commission member running in the European elections in May. Corina Creţu, the Romanian Commissioner, said she will run for a new political party, Pro Romania, different from the one that took her to the European Parliament and then to the Commission.
Estonia’s Andrus Ansip told EURACTIV in an interview he wants to be an MEP again. A few more are expected to run as well. But all of them are keeping their Commission seats.
The question is: shouldn’t Commissioners take unpaid leave and dedicate their time to campaigning? As it is, they are pretending to remain neutral as Commissioners, but still hope to mobilise the electorate in their home countries and beyond (in the case of Timmermans).
We asked Timmermans this question today. He explained that the Juncker Commission decided that members of the college who decide to run for European elections can stay on as members of the Commission.
He said that whatever position he took was a position of the College of Commissioners and that he doesn’t go out and say things of his own accord.
The Code of conduct for Commissioners is slightly more nuanced. Although there are no clear rules, its Article 10 (1) reads:
“Members may participate in European politics as members of European political parties or organisations of the social partners at European level provided that this does not compromise their availability for service in the Commission and the priority to be given to their Commission duties over party commitment.”
Further, Article 10 (6) says: “Members so participating in electoral campaigns shall undertake to refrain from adopting a position in the course of the campaign that would not be in line with the duty of confidentiality or infringe the principle of collegiality.”
This is the modest and insufficient legal basis. When Timmermans announced his political bid, reportedly the Legal Service and the ethics unit of the Secretariat General gave him ‘oral instructions’.
Juncker will issue more detailed internal guidance in due time, EURACTIV was told. Let’s see. But we cannot be convinced of the merits of a system in which commissioners campaign while at work. Incidentally, Juncker is not running for re-election.
What if the Commission president were to run as the EPP Spitzenkandidat, the first vice president on behalf of PES and another vice president for ALDE? They might claim to remain neutral in their work, but how credible would the European elections be?
Isn’t this providing arguments to the anti-EU camp? Viktor Orbán is already using this kind of ammunition against Timmermans.
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Views are the author’s