European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has urged member states not to name short-term replacements for the Commissioners that have been elected as MEPs, insisting there is not enough work for 28 Commissioners anyway.
Five of Juncker’s Commissioners have been elected as MEPs: First Vice President Frans Timmermans, vice-presidents Andrus Ansip and Valdis Dombrovskis, and Commissioners Corina Creţu and Mariya Gabriel.
In an interview with BILD am Sontag yesterday (2 June), Juncker made a strong appeal that the member states should not replace them until the end of the mandate in November.
The elected MEPs must decide whether to take their seats before 1 July. If some of the elected Commissioners take their MEP seats, their countries will be without a Commissioner for four months.
“Each member state has the right to appoint a new Commissioner for the remaining four months,” Juncker said, adding that “this would cost the European taxpayer a million euro per Commissioner, for relocation, staff and the lifelong pension which every Commissioner gets, no matter how long he or she has been in office, because the member states have decided that this is so. I’m trying to stop this.”
Juncker was categorical that the work of the departing Commissioners can easily be shared out among the remaining Commissioners for four months.
“If heads of state or government insist on replacing them, no citizen will understand this,” he warned. Juncker also said he had called several times for the number of Commissioners to be reduced.
The EU’s treaty says that the number of Commissioners should be two-thirds of the number of member states.
But this promise was shelved as a result of the Irish referendum of 2008, which ratified the Lisbon Treaty. The European Council then promised that the treaty would be changed so as to guarantee one Commissioner per member state.
“There is simply not enough work to keep 28 Commissioners busy all day. This is why I revamped the Commission, appointed vice-presidents and greatly reduced the number of portfolios. My successor will have to take similar measures if the member states cannot agree to reduce the number of Commissioners,” said Juncker.
Vice-presidents largely replicate the work of Commissioners: First Vice President Timmermans covers the portfolio of justice chief Věra Jourová, while Vice President and High Representative Federica Mogherini covers Johannes Hahn, Neven Mimica and Christos Stylianides.
Andrus Ansip covers the portfolio of Mariya Gabriel, Energy Union chief Maroš Šefčovič oversees Miguel Arias Cañete’s, Dombrovskis covers Pierre Moscovici and Jyrki Katainen covers Elżbieta Bieńkowska’s portfolio.
The Commission chief also complained that member states paid little attention to gender balance. He disclosed that when he started putting together his team, five years ago, member states had proposed only one woman.
The information about the initial stage of nominations of the Commissioners is not public. In 2014, Bulgaria proposed a woman from the start – Kristalina Georgieva, who was named as a vice-president.
She left the Commission in 2016 for a job in the World Bank and was replaced by Gabriel. Bulgaria is the only EU country that has never had a man as Commissioner.
As a result of his discrete pressure on member states, Juncker managed to bring the number of women up to nine. This means that eight of the female Commissioners, including the likes of Margrethe Vestager or Jourová, whose efforts have been widely praised, were the second choice of the respective member states.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]