Barroso weighs options for new-look EU executive


With the dawn of the second Barroso Commission, EURACTIV examines how portfolios may be restructured in a new-look EU executive. The likeliest high-profile changes include new commissioners for climate action and migration.

In an attempt to reflect the changing ‘big picture’ priorities of the EU and exercise more leadership inside the European Commission, the new college of commissioners is likely to feature a number of new or remodelled portfolios. 

The allocation of these new positions is likely to lead to frantic horse-trading between EU member states, first to determine the precise competencies of each portfolio and then to decide which country is awarded which post. 

However, no concrete decisions will be made until the EU knows the institutional basis upon which the new commission will proceed, as leaders of the 27-member bloc nervously await the results of Ireland’s second referendum on 2 October. 

Barroso’s unique opportunity 

As a result of this waiting game, Barroso should have the entire month of October to negotiate with EU leaders on the make-up of his second college, said Antonio Missiroli, a director at the European Policy Centre (EPC) think-tank in Brussels. 

Barroso’s early reappointment means he has “more leverage in reshaping the structure of the Commission” than other presidents normally enjoy, he told EURACTIV. 

Moreover, should Lisbon be ratified, the Commission president will have to negotiate the novel situation of competing for prominence and power with the two new EU ‘top jobs’ – the permanent president of the European Council and the high representative for foreign affairs. 

Again, Missiroli believes Barroso will have unprecedented potential to define the scope and structure of his own power. The EPC director argues that Barroso will have a “unique opportunity over the next two years to recuperate the roles of the Commission and really influence policymaking,” given that the new ‘top job’ appointments will need time to find their feet. 

Three new portfolios: Climate, Migration and Fundamental Rights 

Before his reappointment, Barroso confirmed he was envisaging a commissioner responsible for justice, fundamental rights and civil liberties, including citizens’ and minority rights. This is no surprise as Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the Liberal (ALDE) group in the European Parliament, made his support for Barroso conditional on the creation of such a post (EURACTIV 15/07/09). 

Barroso also said he is envisaging having a commissioner for internal affairs and migration, and another one for “climate action”. 

The climate action commissioner is likely to prove strategically popular, both with politicians and the general public. However, it remains to be seen which specific directorates will fall under that remit, besides those currently under the environment portfolio. 

The outcome of December’s global conference on climate change in Copenhagen will have a big impact here, according to Alfons Westgeest, managing partner at Kellen Europe. 

Speaking to EURACTIV, Westgeest argued that Copenhagen “will lead to a diversification or shuffling of areas and priorities” in the new climate action directorate, though it remains unclear where “energy consumption, new solutions and international issues will be (re)allocated”. 

The justice, fundamental rights and civil liberties portfolio, viewed by many as Barroso’s gift to the European Liberals, is also reflective of the growing debate on migration issues at EU level, and should go some way towards resolving problems within the current justice and home affairs (JHA) DG. 

Under the current arrangement, the JHA Commission is “both judge and jury,” controlling justice issues but also holding responsibility for the rights of immigrants and social minorities, according to Mark McGann, CEO of Weber Shandwick Belgium. 

McGann believes “it makes absolute sense from a legal as well as a political perspective to split that portfolio,” a point echoed by the EPC’s Antonio Missiroli, who said that “this duality had become a little bit embarrassing”. 

As for the new migration and security job, Missiroli cautioned that “putting these headings together risks sending the wrong message, i.e. that migration is a security issue,” a fact that Barroso is no doubt aware of as he tries to handle this sensitive issue. 

A Digital Czar, Human Capital Kingpin or Culture Chief? 

Beyond these commitments, Brussels is awash with speculation as to what other new portfolios may emerge. 

Rumours are rife that Barroso may create a new ‘digital’ portfolio to replace the current information society brief, as desired by current Infosociety Commissioner Viviane Reding (EURACTIV 23/06/09). Such a move would strengthen the commissioner’s hand in enforcing competition in the telecommunications market as well as addressing the thorny issue of digital copyright. 

In a separate development, Brussels think-tank Bruegel recommended in a recent report the creation of a commissioner for the knowledge economy, responsible for “the three sides of the knowledge triangle: higher education, research and innovation” (EURACTIV 23/09/09). 

“Creating this new post will underscore the fact that making Europe a knowledge economy remains a vital priority of the new Commission,” the report argued. 

Missiroli, similarly, told EURACTIV that “if the president is serious about research and development and the new Lisbon Agenda, then it could make sense to have a commissioner for human capital, encompassing R&D and the modernisation of the European economies in a forward-looking manner”. 

Finally, Weber Shandwick’s McGann called for a European culture commissioner, arguing that “right now we have one commissioner for education and culture and one for multilingualism. There is a reasonably sound case to re-aligning those two, allowing a strong European culture commissioner to cover not only issues generally pertaining to European culture, but also to deal with minorities and languages”. 

Brussels think-tank Bruegel called for the establishment of a commissioner for economic and financial affairs, arguing that "the arrangement whereby responsibility for economic and financial affairs was split between two commissioners has been detrimental to both the Commission and the EU". 

If this change were to take place, Bruegel argued that the commissioner in charge of the internal market will be deprived of one of his/her main responsibilities. Moreover, "the commissioner in charge of industrial affairs, or more recently enterprise, has lacked proper policy tools. Therefore, Bruegel proposed to "go back to the situation that prevailed until the early 1990s" and to merge internal market and industrial affairs. 

The Brussels-based think-tank also favours the creation of a Commissioner for the Knowledge Economy. "Creating this new post will underscore the fact that making Europe a knowledge economy remains a vital priority of the new Commission," said a recent Bruegel report. 

Alfons Westgeest, managing partner at Kellen Europe, believes the "portfolios of energy, transport and natural resources will take a front position and provoke a debate over which commissioner gets what. The Copenhagen outcome in December will expand the environment portfolio, but at the same time will lead to a diversification or shuffling of areas and priorities as to where energy consumption, new solutions and international issues will be (re)allocated". 

Speaking to EURACTIV, he went on to note that "the biggest communication challenge is to obtain a more positive understanding in relations with the citizens of Europe". 

Mark McGann, CEO of Weber Shandwick Belgium, told EURACTIV that "some of these new portfolios that Barroso has announced, albeit under political pressure from the Liberals, are certainly to be welcomed". 

"In particular," he said, "the proposed portfolio for respecting diversity and human rights, I hope, will have as much legislative initiative as possible". 

"But the main point I want to make is that it's crucial for the future of the European single market that the key portfolios of Competition and Internal Market not be awarded to a 'big' country – i.e. France, Germany, the UK, Spain or Italy". 

"The second important issue is that the Internal Market portfolio must not be carved up. There's talk of moving some of the competences currently under Charlie McCreevy, such as intellectual property and copyright, away from Internal Market." 

"From the perspective of European business and industry, Barroso I has probably been the weakest Commission in the past 20 years in terms of standing up to the larger member states in respecting the rules of the single market. So we've seen increased fragmentation of the European market as opposed to increased harmonisation." 

"I think if this portfolio were to be awarded to France or Germany it could be the death knell of the single market." 

"As regards the proposed creation of a commissioner for fundamental rights, it makes sense to move this from its current JHA portfolio under Jacques Barrot. With this current arrangement, the Commission is both judge and jury – you're the justice commissioner and also the commissioner responsible for immigrants, social minorities etc." 

"So it makes absolute sense from a legal as well as a political perspective to split that portfolio." 

"Also, I know that Commissioner Reding sees merit in awarding the actual enforcement of competition in telecommunication from DG COMP over to DG INFOSOC. That could help, as there is still a clear lack of full competition in the telecoms services market." 

McGann added that "people tend to make fun of the portfolio of multilingualism. I think it would make sense to have a strong portfolio for a European culture commissioner. Right now we have one DG for Education and Culture and one for Multilingualism There's a reasonably sound case to be made to split those two, allowing a strong European culture commissioner to cover not only issues generally pertaining European culture, but also to deal with minorities and languages". 

He concluded that "at the end of the day, the portfolios where the Commission is strongest and can really face down the member states are Competition, Internal Market and Trade, and I would argue that they should be left intact, with perhaps the exception of telecommunications under DG COMP". 

Following his reappointment as European Commission president – the first politician to retain the position since Jacques Delors (EURACTIV 16/09/09) - José Manuel Barroso must set about restructuring his new team of commissioners. 

The practice of renaming, rebranding or restructuring policy portfolios is as commonplace in the EU as it is in national governments. Such changes are usually a function of political demands or functional needs, and alterations to the title and scope of a commissioner's portfolio can have a massive bearing on its relative clout and prestige. 

There are precious few portfolios - such as trade, competition or agriculture - that have remained largely unchanged over the decades of EU construction. But the majority of other portfolios have evolved in line with changes in the EU's competencies – such as justice and home affairs, environment, information society or energy. 

  • 2 Oct.: Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. 
  • 23 Nov.: Current Commission mandate expires. 
  • Nov. 2009-Jan. 2010: Likely timeframe for the new college of commissioners to be put for approval before a hearing of the European Parliament.

On 8 September, Fondation EURACTIV held a workshop on the priorities for the next Commission under Chatham House rules
. As the new EU executive settles in, EURACTIV will continue to cover the new EU executive's work programme in its 
EU Priorities section and during 'Special Week' coverage of the Spanish EU Presidency (
see programme here

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