Barroso unveils new EU Commission line-up

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European Commission President José Manuel Barroso unveiled the EU executive’s new line-up on Friday (27 November), handing Finn Olli Rehn the key economic policy portfolio and giving Frenchman Michel Barnier a controversial role in overseeing regulation of the financial sector.

Rehn takes over from Spaniard Joaquin Almunia, who will become competition commissioner in the 27-country bloc’s executive. France’s Michel Barnier was named internal market commissioner, with responsibility for financial services.

The formation of the European Commission is the latest stage in the EU’s efforts to maintain its influence on the world stage after the economic crisis.

The 27-person team, which represents almost 500 million people, is likely to take office early next year. It will serve for five years, but first needs the European Parliament’s approval.

“In five years’ time, I want this Commission to have been instrumental in leading Europe out of the economic crisis towards a competitive economy that provides sustainable growth,” Barroso told a news conference.

The nomination of the Commission, a powerful regulatory body, follows the naming of a new EU president and foreign policy chief as well as ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, intended to make EU decision-making smoother (EURACTIV 20/11/09).

Almunia, a 61-year-old socialist, gained a reputation for independence and fiscal prudence as economic and monetary affairs commissioner. Rehn, 46, oversaw the accession of Romania and Bulgaria as EU enlargement commissioner.

“Both men are [among] Commission President Barroso’s top lieutenants and they are seen as safe pairs of hands,” an EU diplomat said.

“In making these appointments, Barroso keeps tight control on two top jobs and keeps Paris, Berlin and London’s hands off them.”

Europe’s economy has started to recover after the global crisis. The EU faces a decision on when to stop emergency financial measures that were used to prop up the economy, and needs to tackle soaring budget deficits.

As competition commissioner, taking over from Neelie Kroes of the Netherlands, Almunia will be asked to enforce strict rules on state aid, prevent protectionism and uphold the EU’s single market.

The appointments in full:

  • José Manuel Barroso (Portugal): President
  • Joaquin Almunia (Spain): Competition
  • Catherine Ashton (UK): Foreign Affairs High Representative
  • Michel Barnier (France): Internal Market and Services
  • Olli Rehn (Finland): Economic and Monetary Affairs
  • Dacian Ciolos (Romania): Agriculture
  • John Dalli (Malta): Health and Consumer Policy
  • Karel De Gucht (Belgium): Trade
  • Stefan Füle (Czech Republic): Enlargement
  • Connie Hedegaard (Denmark): Climate Action
  • Maire Geoghegan-Quinn (Ireland): Research and Innovation
  • Janusz Lewandowski (Poland): Budget/Financial Programming
  • Guenther Oettinger (Germany): Energy
  • Janez Potocnik (Slovenia): Environment
  • Neelie Kroes (Netherlands): Digital Agenda
  • László Andor (Hungary): Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion
  • Maria Damanaki (Greece): Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
  • Johannes Hahn (Austria): Regional Policy
  • Rumiana Jeleva (Bulgaria): International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response
  • Siim Kallas (Estonia): Transport
  • Cecilia Malmström (Sweden): Home Affairs
  • Andris Piebalgs (Latvia): Development
  • Viviane Reding (Luxembourg): Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship
  • Algirdas Šemeta (Lithuania): Taxation and Customs Union
  • Antonio Tajani (Italy): Industry and Entrepreneurship
  • Androulla Vassiliou (Cyprus): Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth  
  • Maros Sefcovic (Slovakia): Interinstitutional Relations and Administration

(EURACTIV with Reuters.)

Positions

"This early announcement is most welcome as it gives the nominee commissioners themselves and the members of the European Parliament the time necessary to properly prepare the hearings, scheduled to begin in early January," said European People's Party group chair Joseph Daul MEP.

"I welcome in particular the appointment of [Denmark's] Connie Hedegaard to the climate change portfolio. This appointment can only increase the chances of success at the Copenhagen climate change conference," Daul said.

"The other new portfolios [Home Affairs; Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship] and reconfigurations will also give the Commission a greater ability to address the concerns of all Europeans," he added.

"It is now the work of the committees of the European Parliament to examine the ability of the next commissioners to deliver progress in the areas that have been allocated to them [...] We will do everything possible to allow a vote on the new College of Commissioners to take place on 26 January next, as scheduled," the French MEP concluded.

"It gives me satisfaction to note that we will have more vice-presidencies than any other political family," said Martin Schulz, leader of the Socialists & Democrats  (S&D) group in the European Parliament. "This will ensure a proper balance at the highest level of Commission decision-making," he added.

"S&D politicians will have three of the seven vice-presidencies in the new Commission. In addition to EU foreign policy, entrusted to Baroness Catherine Ashton, the S&D family will manage social policy, competition and relations with EU ministers and the European Parliament. The Czech commissioner will deal with EU enlargement and relations with neighbouring countries and the Greek commissioner will run maritime and fisheries policy," the group said in a statement.

The parliamentary hearings "will be serious tests of the nominees and their ambitions for Europe, and we will not pre-judge their outcome," Schulz concluded.

Annemie Neyts, president of the European Liberal Democrat and Reform  (ELDR)  party,  warmly welcomed the portfolios assigned to liberals. "Eight of the commissioners represent European Liberal Democrat values, which will ensure a liberal footprint on the agenda for change set out by [European] Commission President [José Manuel] Barroso in the political guidelines for the new Commission for the coming five years," she said.

Liberal commissioners will be in charge of important portfolios such as economic and monetary affairs, trade and home affairs, and two of the liberal commissioners are also assigned the role of vice-president. 

"Mr Barroso has heard the liberal message, namely that the liberal members of the Commission should obtain portfolios which allow them to play a visibly significant role in the future Commission," she added.

Guy VerhofstadtAlliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE)  group leader in the European Parliament, said: "I am satisfied that President Barroso is putting his trust in the liberal commissioners in so many important dossiers which will be vital in the months and ahead to pull Europe out of recession and improve prospects in the job market."

"The significant presence of Liberals in the new Commission will enable us to play a major role in Europe under the new Treaty of Lisbon," he added.

Treating journalists to a seafood lunch in a Brussels restaurant, Verhofstadt said he was satisfied with the nomination of eight commissioners from his political family in the Barroso II team: Kallas, Kroes, Geoghegan-Quinn, De Gucht, Malmstrom, Potocnik, Rehn and Vassiliou.

The number is the same as in the previous Commission, but in a context where liberals were present in fewer European governments, Verhofstadt remarked. He also noted that among them, there are two Commission vice-presidents (Siim Kallas and Neelie Kroes), compared to one (Kallas) in the Barroso I team. 

The ALDE leader expressed particular satisfaction with the economic and monetary affairs portfolio, attributed to Olli Rehn. He explained that after his group had realised that the top jobs of EU president and High Representative for Foreign Affairs were being divided between the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) and the socialists, the liberals concentrated on obtaining the top economic portfolio.

"For us, what counted more was the commissioner portfolios, and how these portfolios would help us to get a more pro-European agenda," Verhofstadt said.

Verhofstadt stressed that Rehn's attributes include a very important dimension: putting in place the post-Lisbon strategy, dubbed 'EU 2020' (EURACTIV 19/11/09). He said the strategy would be adopted at the spring European Council, and that the European Commission draft paper now being discussed between member states and the EU institutions was written by Rehn.

Verhofstadt hailed the securing of the trade portfolio, attributed to former Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht, a fellow member of the Flemish liberal party, VLD.

The ALDE leader indicated that his group will support the Barroso II team during the vote in Parliament next January, as his requests had been heeded in four out of five policy areas. He described liberal representation in the college of commissioners as satisfactory.

Asked by EURACTIV which of the five policies had not been heeded by Barroso, Verhofstdat said he would need to check his correspondence with the Commission president, adding that beyond the details, the overall balance was positive.

Verhofstadt also stated his intention to change his way of working with the liberal commissioners. Until now, he said, they only met once a month in a Brussels restaurant, which he said was "nice, but you don't make much policy with thatW. Meetings with the commissioners will now be more streamlined and more regular, he said.

"I am delighted that the liberals remained true to their commitment to gender balance in the selection of commissioners," he further stressed. Indeed, half of the liberal commissioners will be female and represent almost half of the total number of female commissioners.

The Bulgarian Socialist MEPs in the European Parliament issued a statement regretting that the portfolio received by Rumiana Jeleva (a member of the GERB party, EPP-affiliated), was "not a priority one" for the EU. Jeleva was awarded the new International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response portfolio.

The MEPs appear to place the blame at the feet of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov's government for proposing a candidate with insufficient qualifications. 

"In the new Commission there will be a number of portfolios dealing with important policies indeed […] We congratulate the governments of the other new EU members, who proved able to present credible and competent candidates," the statement reads.

Timothy Kirkhope, Conservative leader in the European Parliament said: "The [British] government ought to have known that by taking the High Representative role they would no longer have so much influence on the economic direction of Europe."

"The loss of an Anglo-Saxon voice in the commission's top economic team is of concern given the recent spate of over prescriptive economic and financial legislation to come from Brussels," he added.

"Mr Barnier has already been contributing a great deal as a member of the parliament's internal market committee," said Malcolm HarbourChairman of the European Parliament's internal market committee.

"In the European Parliament's hearings, we will make it clear that we expect him to prioritise the completion of the single market and the creation of new opportunities for business," he added. "Some of Mr Sarkozy's past comments on the single market have been of concern and we will make it clear that the single market commissioner must stand up for open and free markets."

"Clearly we would have preferred a British Commissioner in a top economic role but as that was not possible I intend to work constructively with Mr Barnier and his staff on areas where we agree, and I am sure there will be vigorous debate when we do not," he concluded. 

Background

The distribution of portfolios is the prerogative of the European Commission president. However, EU member states often state their preferences, trying to "mark their territory" or influence his decision-making. 

Commissioners do not represent their countries. However, both in Eastern and Western Europe, the post continues to be seen as the most senior national position in the EU executive.

Timeline

  • 11-19 Jan. 2010: Hearings with the newly-nominated commissioners in the European Parliament.
  • 26 Jan. 2010: Final vote of the European Parliament on the full Commission (9.00-11.00 debate in plenary; 11.00-12.00 political group meetings; 12.00-13.00 vote in plenary). 
  • 1 Feb. 2010: New Commission expected to take office.

Further Reading

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