The Brief – The ‘Super-Commissioners’

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA]

In spite of EU leaders’ opposition to measures to make the Commission more functional, the rise of three ‘super-commissioners’ to support the next EU executive chief would improve Europe’s response to the turbulent world.

The death of the Spitzenkandidaten process was not entirely in vain. From its ashes, not one but two mighty European Commission vice-presidencies have emerged.

As part of the top jobs agreement, the Socialists secured a powerful vice-presidency for their lead candidate, Frans Timmermans.

The nominee to lead the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen did not clarify what powers he would have. But surely she would have to improve the status of the current first vice-presidency, as the new post was the consolation prize after he failed to secure the presidency.

But Timmermans was not the only Spitzencandidat left under the rain. The liberal family (now known as Renew Europe in the Parliament) told von der Leyen that their support for her nomination would depend on ensuring that their own Margrethe Vestager is on equal footing with Timmermans.

It is too early to say what competences Timmermans and Vestager would get, especially given that von der Leyen is still struggling to secure her confirmation. But given their past record, and the challenges Europe will face in the next mandate, one could imagine the duo as the co-protectors of Europe’s interests and values.

Timmermans could be the sheriff within our borders, ensuring that the rule of law is respected, with better instruments for policing and sanctioning. But his tasks as the guardian of European democracies could also include fighting disinformation campaigns and the disruption of electoral processes, and new means of political participation.

Vestager would uphold our economic goals and principles at home and abroad, in a continuum that would include a new industrial plan, an updated competition policy, a more robust trade strategy and stronger innovation muscle.

Meanwhile, Josep Borrell will also hold greater powers as Europe’s top diplomat. Besides the double institutional hat (Commission-Council) his predecessors wore, and the Defence and Foreign Affairs competences, he is expected to handle humanitarian aid and all policies related to Africa, according to Socialist negotiator-in-chief and Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez.

Supported by sufficient resources (directorate-generals) these three musketeers could improve the current system of vice-presidencies and clusters, and help to bring more assertive and interconnected responses to today’s complex challenges.

And it would help to compensate for the national governments’ refusal to make the EU executive more functional by reducing the number of commissioners.

The trio are not absent of flaws, past mistakes and defeats, but are all seasoned politicians, with strong pro-European credentials.

The criticisms made against Timmermans derailed his attempt to become Commission president.  But it was Borrell who came under the spotlight after the top jobs deal was announced.

His candid comments and some gaffes, Spain’s position on Kosovo and his age (72 years) are some of the reasons list by his critics to oppose his candidacy.

He may be touring the world less than Mogherini, but there’s still a lot of work to do at home. An ambassador of a large country welcomed his nomination, as his long career and gravitas would help to forge Europe’s common views and positions.

While he has been involved in some controversies (he was fined by Spain’s market regulator for insider dealing), Borrell, a Catalan himself, was also praised by his political rivals for giving a voice to the majority of Catalans against independence.

The backroom agreement and Spitzenkandidat fiasco has tarnished the start of the Commission’s new team. But that doesn’t mean that the team members lack skills and experience. Now it is the time for the super-commissioners.


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Tackling the twin crises of climate emergency and inequality will require a full transformation of the EU building stock within three decades. Find out how Europe can deliver healthy, sustainable and affordable energy-efficient homes for all its citizens in Eurima’s action plan.


The Roundup

By Alexandra Brzozowski

Europe should increase its economic assertiveness abroad and put forward a new strategy to face China’s rivalry, experts and diplomats suggest.

Germany’s Social Democrats have circulated a damning paper to their European political group in which they call Ursula von der Leyen an “inadequate and inappropriate candidate” to lead the European Commission ahead of a vote on her nomination next week.

Meanwhile, still-European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker interviewed the two lucky picks for vacant Commisioner’s posts to fill for a couple of weeks.

France wants to make access to European funds conditional on the European minimum wage and respect for the rule of law, French minister Amélie de Montchalin told EURACTIV.sk.

Germany’s Europe minister delivered a blunt message to a gathering of the Eastern Partnership, organised in the Georgian Black Sea city of Batumi: unless reforms in Eastern Europe speed up, its young people will leave to find a better life in Western Europe.

Slovakian president Zuzana Čaputová has criticised Beijing for not respecting human rights, during a visit by China’s foreign affairs chief.

The EU is set to curb contacts and funding for Ankara in retaliation for what it calls Turkey’s “illegal” drilling for gas and oil off Cyprus and stands ready to ramp up sanctions further, according to a draft statement.

Ireland’s parliament presses the government to lead opposition inside the EU to a draft trade deal that Brussels has struck with the Mercosur bloc of South American countries.

The UK government said all new ships ordered from 2025 and aimed for its waters must be equipped with zero emission technology, as part of a new plan to cut maritime pollution.

Replacing Poland’s obsolete coal power fleet is a top political priority for the country, both for environmental and energy security reasons.

This week’s edition of Tweets of the Week features Ursula von der Leyen meeting with MEPs to keep candidacy afloat, Greek citizens casting their votes, and Hello Kitty stealing the show.

Look out for…

European Parliament’s plenary session in Strasbourg, 15-18 July. The vote on Ursula von der Leyen as new European Commission president is due on Tuesday evening. 

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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