Commissioners are encouraged to be present in both Brussels and at home, even if this leads to unconventional arrangements. Jean-Claude Juncker and Pierre Moscovici both accepted a settling-in grant for the move to Brussels, despite staying in hotels in the EU capital. EURACTIV France reports.
Jean-Claude Juncker promised that the European Commission would become more political under his leadership, demanding that Commissioners increase their media presence and proudly display their European colours in their home countries.
However this sometimes means spending less time in Brussels, a change that took the European institutions by surprise.
Settling-in grants inconsistent with life in a hotel
The statutes of the EU require European Commissioners and the Commission President to settle in Brussels, like the civil servants. Upon arrival in the EU capital, they receive a comfortable settling-in grant, equal to two months’ pay.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker thus received an allowance of €51,000 for his move to Brussels in November 2014. The vice-presidents and the other Commissioners are also entitled to this relocation grant.
Juncker has chosen to live in a hotel in Brussels, allowing him in theory to return to Luxembourg from Friday to Monday.
“It is more like a furnished apartment,” a European Commission spokesperson specified. “We are a long way from the White House and the incarnation of power in one place. The political issues of the EU take place in the member states.”
Whether it is in fact a hotel or an apartment, the Commission President has evidently not used his grant to pay for any extra entertainment services, as he once complained that he was forced to watch Euronews “all night long”.
>> Watch our video: Juncker: I watch Euronews all night long
French Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, previously a resident of Paris, also initially chose to stay in a hotel in Brussels and make the 90 minute return journey to the French capital at weekends, before renting an apartment “a few weeks ago” according to his office staff.
A regular presence in the French media in recent weeks, Moscovici is also the most popular European Commissioner on Twitter, with 130,000 followers, ahead of Juncker.
MEPs asked to spend more time in the constituencies
The European Parliament has also shown an increased desire for its representatives to spend time in their home countries.
This will be the object of ongoing discussions between the presidents of the European Parliament groups, who will make a decision at the Conference of the Presidents on 30 April.
According to our sources, the number of “green weeks” in the MEPs’ 2016 agenda could increase from 7 to 11. These are the weeks dedicated to the European Parliament’s external activities.
The Commission is currently trying to pressure the three groups in the coalition into accepting this change, but it is has not gone down well with MEPs, who fear the European Parliament will be reduced to a rubber stamping chamber. The Greens already plan to oppose the proposal, and the Socialists are considering their options.
A Green MEP said, “This is a way of limiting the powers of the members of parliament. It will do nothing to remedy the undemocratic nature of European politics.”
Plans to increase MEPs’ allowances for parliamentary assistants from 20,000 to 23,000 per month have also, perhaps unexpectedly, met with resistance. This reform of the 2015 budget, advocated by the EPP, could “strengthen the power of individual MEPs at the expense of the political groups, which could end up weakening the position of the European Parliament”.
Editor’s Note: Following this article’s publication, Pierre Moscovici’s office informed EURACTIV France that the Commissioner has rented an apartment in Brussels “a few weeks ago”, without speciffying when.