Beginning his mandate with a promise to deliver a new start for Europe, the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, gets a mixed review after his first 100 days in office.
EURACTIV has kept a close eye on #TeamJuncker and asked leading lawmakers for their first assessment.
Across the political spectrum, most lawmakers agree: the Juncker Commission has started off on the right foot, but the seeds sown so far by the former Luxembourg prime minister might not all bloom.
“It has been an eventful but mixed start for the Juncker Commission,” European Conservatives and Reformists group chair, Syed Kamall, told EURACTIV in an interview.
Possibly the biggest success so far is the change of the Commission’s modus operandi.
By introducing a new structure, organising Commissioners in teams led by a vice-president in charge of an overarching objective, Juncker is credited for altering a stuffy and lethargic bureaucratic machine.
“The new organisation facilitates the coordination of different policies and that is a major step forward,” said Karel Lanoo of the Centre for European Policy Studies, a leading think tank in Brussels.
Supposedly that is expected to deliver gains in efficiency and results-oriented policy-making. The new working methods will allow the Commission to come up with answers and demonstrate Europe’s added value, said Manfred Weber, chair of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament.
Another plus comes from its relations with lawmakers. “Never has the cooperation between the European Commission and the European Parliament been so close,” added Weber.
No verdict yet on the investment plan
Criticised left and right for his alleged involvement in the Luxembourg tax avoidance schemes for multinational companies, he is praised by some for having rapidly pushed through an investment plan to accelerate European economic recovery.
“With its new method, the investment plan presented by Juncker bridges the gap in the debate on flexibility versus budgetary discipline, so that we can finally put this sterile debate behind us,” said Manfred Weber, chair of the European People’s Party group in the European Parliament.
Gianni Pittella, chair of the Socialists and Reformists Group, echoes Weber, adding that by marrying investment and flexibility Juncker has initiated a paradigm shift.
Not convinced, the Greens, argue instead that the jury is still out on the plan. “Juncker’s proposal seems to be based on shaky economics and there are major concerns about the political direction of the plan,” said Philippe Lamberts, co-chair of the European greens in the parliament.
The most important pillar of this plan will be measures to cut red tape that investors face across the EU. Without that action, the plan will fail no matter how much investment the plan attracts, added Kamall.
Far-left and UKIP MEPs fiercely criticise the plan, saying it is based on “pure fantasy” as the EU only contributes around €20 billion.
“European investment has gone down by 15% since the crisis began and with zero percent interest rates there is still no investment. Amid such a climate how can he expect private investment to magically appear?” asks Gabi Zimmer, the German Die Linke MEP leading the far-left GUE/NGL group in the parliament.
Nigel Farage, leader of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party (UKIP), also slammed the plan saying Juncker “clearly doesn’t know the difference between fantasy and finance”.
“He thinks he can magically turn €21bn into €315bn by reviving ‘special financial instruments’. Those are the kind of financial instruments that triggered the Lehman Brothers collapse in 2008.”
What is big and small?
Since it took office, the Juncker Commission has tried to focus on a limited number of dossiers: energy union, capital markets union, digital Europe.
This has given a clear sense of direction to the EU executive, centre-right lawmakers argue. “It takes into account the promise made to voters: that Europe should be big on big issues and small on small issues,” said Weber.
But this doesn’t please everyone. The 2015 work programme, whose approval is being delayed in the Parliament, fails to gather consensus.
Green co-chair Rebecca Harms slammed the work programme as a way of stalling deregulation, and an assault on progressive policies.
“Scrapping important social and environmental legislation is not in the interest of Europe’s citizens and will only further undermine public confidence in the EU,” she said, urging the Commission to change track.
Zimmer also deplores the axing of environmental laws.
“Juncker may claim that scrapping legislation is about making EU law ‘lighter, simpler and less costly’ or ‘removing administrative burdens’, but he can’t fool citizens: it is a clear attempt to further a neoliberal deregulation agenda which seeks to weaken environmental, health, safety standards,” she told EURACTIV.
On the right, not all relish big issues. “We don’t need more unions,” said Kemall, alluding to the Commission’s vision to create energy, capital markets unions.
“Instead, we need to see energy diversification and better interconnections so that we are less reliant on energy from countries with unpleasant regimes. We need to see efficient, transparent and well functioning capital markets,” he added.
The blind spot: Luxleaks
Juncker’s involvement in the Luxembourg corporate tax evasion scandal has undoubtedly soured the beginning of his mandate.
Even though the President claimed the investigation did not reveal anything illegal, and that there was no conflict of interest with the “tax rulings” granted to major companies which are now being investigated by the Commission, the Luxleaks affair obscured the first working weeks of the executive.
>> Read: Jucker breaks cover on Luxleaks
Avoid faux pas
More than the first three months, the real test for the Juncker Commission will come in 2015, analysts observe. “Juncker himself said that this is the Commission of the last chance. So this is a crucial year,” said Lanoo.
The 2014-2019 Commission has a lot on its plate, with unforeseen events coming to the fore every single day, not the least, terrorism.
But it should avoid falling into the trap of only firefighting, learning the lesson from Barroso II, and keep focusing on the long-term so that Europe seizes its “last chance” to make its voice heard in the world.
“They are politicians, not bureaucrats. They are the right people for the task,” Weber ensured.