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”.