Twenty French officials tipped for top EU posts


Up to twenty French officials – and as many Brits and Germans – are to enter the inner circles of the new European commissioners. EURACTIV France reports.

Ahead of a confirmation vote in the European Parliament on 9 February, the 27 EU commissioners-designate are busy finalising the teams of collaborators that are to enter their 'cabinets'.

The rules on putting together commissioners' cabinets are strict: each commissioner is allowed no more than six advisors, plus one expert. The European Commission president can have 12 members in his cabinet, who must represent at least three different nationalities.

Only two French nationals are among the heads of cabinet in the Barroso II Commission, according to unofficial lists seen circulating in Brussels and in member states (see EURACTIV Links Dossier). Five 'chefs de cabinet' are from the United Kingdom and four from Germany.

The same goes for spokespersons: just three are French. An internal document seen by EURACTIV shows that 11 out of the 26 spokespersons that have already been designated are Anglophone. Of these, seven are British and four are Irish (EURACTIV 22/01/10).

But in general the situation looks better as the current list of cabinet members includes 20 French people, as many as Brits (EURACTIV 21/01/10).

"It corresponds to the number of French citizens in the Barroso I Commission's teams," an advisor at the French Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels said.

However, an internal note distributed by Barroso's services underlined that the British, French and Portuguese are over-represented among cabinets compared to their population and political weight (EURACTIV 21/01/10).

Two weeks ago, former French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, special envoy on francophony to President Nicolas Sarkozy, visited Brussels to push for a better linguistic balance in the EU institutions (EURACTIV 18/01/09).

'The important thing is to be there'

"Of the 14 commissioners who remained in the new college, many kept most of their previous team," explained Marco Incerti, a research fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies.

"Even if it is obvious that heads of cabinet are higher in the hierarchy, this is not the most important thing," he said. "The important thing is to be there," he added, explaining that it is more important to have a maximum of French people in a variety of cabinets than a large number of 'chefs de cabinet'.

French names in various cabinets

Among the French nationals is Laurence de Richemont, who is expected to join President Barroso's team. She has been head of the European Commission's office in Paris since 1 September 2009.

Alice Guitton, a 32-year-old technocrat working with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, is expected to join the office of Catherine Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who is also Commission vice-president in charge of external relations.

There will be two French heads of cabinet, Olivier Guersent and Philippe Brunet, working respectively for French Internal Market Commissioner Michel Barnier and Androulla Vassiliou, the Cypriot commissioner for culture. Brunet was already Vassiliou's 'chef de cab' when she was in charge of health.

Barnier is also expected to take with him François Arbault, an official who was working for Commissioner Jacques Barrot, and Bertrand Dumont, who comes from Christine Lagarde's team at the French Ministry of Economy and Finance.

A Norwegian national who worked with the French agriculture minister could also join Barnier, provided that he is not rejected for not being from the EU. His name is underlined with exclamation marks in the Commission's internal document (EURACTIV 21/01/10).

At least three French deputy heads of cabinet will also work in the Berlaymont: Stéphanie Riso, who moves from Joaquin Almunia's team to Olli Rehn's; Laurent Muschuel, who is leaving Jacques Barrot to join Cecilia Malmström; and Guillaume Loriot, formerly in DG Competition, should become Almunia's deputy head of cabinet. 

Based on candidacies submitted by each country, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso distributed portfolios within his new team, which will consist of 27 members, one for each member state (EURACTIV 27/11/09).

'Cabinets' are political bodies made up of the commissioners' closest confidants. They are chaired by a head of cabinet, and their positions are communicated externally by a spokesperson.

The new European Commission is expected to take office on 10 February, after the hearing of Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian commissioner-designate and substitute for Rumiana Jeleva, who was forced to withdraw her candidacy following accusations of wrongdoing (EURACTIV 20/01/10). 

  • 9 Feb.: Confirmation vote of the new college of commissioners in the European Parliament.
  • 10 Feb.: New European Commission expected to take office and members of cabinet announced. 

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