European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has unveiled who will do what job in her administration, insisting hers will be a “geopolitical Commission”.
Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man, Frans Timmermans, has received comprehensive praise since Ursula von der Leyen announced the Dutchman would be her climate tsar on Tuesday (10 September).
He will oversee the birth of the Green Deal, which is set to be her flagship policy. But Timmermans was slow to acknowledge his new job, releasing a statement hours after the news broke. At that time, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and most of the other incoming Commissioners issued their thanks.
According to sources, the delay was because von der Leyen’s number two was annoyed that Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis was also made an ‘executive vice-president’, along with Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager. That was not supposed to be part of the plan, as the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and centrist Renew Europe counted on Timmermans and Vestager forming a triumvirate with the European People’s Party (EPP) von der Leyen.
After both were cast aside along with the Spitzenkandidat process by the European Council before the summer, Timmermans was reportedly irked that the promise of a unique position in the new Commission has effectively been diluted.
Dombrovskis’ appointment as economy chief means the EPP now has a firm hold over the top ranks of the EU executive, which was far from a given after the conservative group spent a lot of its political capital securing the presidency.
Thanks to von der Leyen choosing Greece’s Margaritis Schinas and Croatia’s Dubravka Šuica as VPs, the EPP takes four spots at the summit, when it previously looked like she would have to sacrifice political loyalty to satisfy gender and geographical balance.
Vestager, for her part, was happy on the day, answering questions from the media outside Berlaymont HQ and even admitting that Timmermans will be above her in the hierarchy, despite Renew’s insistence on her getting equal billing with the Dutchman.
(Sam Morgan, EURACTIV.com)
Similarly in Rome, although Italy got the Economy portfolio, the reactions were bittersweet as Paolo Gentiloni’s powers appear to be counterbalanced by Dombrovksis. However, the new government does not expect a harsh confrontation with the Commission and even von der Leyen said teamwork would be easier now that former MEP Roberto Gualtieri is appointed as Economy Minister. Gentiloni and Gualtieri are the two keystones for restoring trust between Rome and Brussels, after 14 months of Salvini’s “bad” influence.
Italy’s biggest ambition for Gentiloni for him to have an active role in reforming the bloc’s economic governance in the future, rather than allowing Italy to avoid infringement procedures.
“We want to review the Stability and Growth Pact, to make sure that the EU rules will reinforce economic growth and sustainable development of Italy and the whole Europe,” said PM Giuseppe Conte before winning the second vote of confidence in the Senate. (Gerardo Fortuna, EURACTIV.com)
Mixed feelings in France. French commissioner Sylvie Goulard got a wide portfolio including two of Paris big folders: defence and industry. For the deputy in charge of EU affairs at Macron’s party LREM, Pieyre-Alexandre Anglade, Goulard’s portfolio is “key to build European sovereignty”. For the head of LREM in the European Parliament, Stéphane Séjourne, Goulard portfolio is both “strategic and powerful”.
Although Goulard’s portfolio has been widely approved in France, the profile of the new commissioner has been subject to critics. For example, she is too close to German interests, according to French MEP Manon Aubry (GUE). “Sylvie Goulard copy-pasted the argumentation from the German banking lobby”, said Aubry, quoting an article from Marianne. The new French commissioner is also being investigated on suspicions of fictitious employment in the European Parliament. Although the EU House has closed the case, the investigation is still ongoing in France.
Satisfaction with Borrell’s appointment but criticism from leftists to “unsocial” Commission. Although no official reaction, inside the acting Government there general satisfaction to see former EP president and former Spain’s Minister of Foreign Relations Josep Borrell as the new head of the EU diplomacy.
However, Sira Rego, spokeswoman of Izquierda Unida (United Left), member of the Unidas Podemos coalition in the European Parliament, fiercely attacked the new Commission: “slogans and political marketing can’t hide the deep antisocial nature of the Von der Leyen Commission”, she said. (Fernando Heller /EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)
Agriculture is a ‘key’ challenge. The Polish authorities have reacted positively to the news that Janusz Wojciechowski obtained the agricultural portfolio in the new Commission. Zbigniew Kuzmiuk, an MEP from the ruling PiS (ECR), said: “This is a big thing for Poland but also from the perspective of the European agriculture”. He added that although it cannot be said with 100% certainty that Wojciechowski will be approved by the European Parliament, his CV is “the best out there and has enormous experience”.
For Poland, getting the agriculture portfolio means a lot, as the country has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of agri-funds since 2004. However, the share of the EU budget that will be allocated for agriculture will diminish, something that will relatively weaken the post in the next 7 years. And the fact that it was allocated for Poland may be a sign of weakening position of Poland in the EU.
Moreover, it is still uncertain whether Wojciechowski will pass through the hearing of the European Parliament. He is also a member of the European Court of Auditors and has been under investigation by the EU anti-fraud body (OLAF), which said the investigation concerns “irregularities regarding the reimbursement of travel costs.” (Łukasz Gadzała,EURACTIV.pl)
Weber hits out at Romania. Manfred Weber (CSU), leader of the conservative EPP parliamentary group in the EU Parliament, has called on Romania to refrain from appointing an interim commissioner for the final weeks of the current EU Commission. The aim is to avoid an “unacceptable waste of taxpayers’ money”, Weber wrote on Tuesday on Twitter.
Due to the fact that the cabinet of the new EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is to begin work on 1 November, Ioan Mircea Pascu’s term of office would be limited to around six weeks. He would no longer have a particular portfolio during this time but would have the lavish salary of an EU Commissioner and other entitlements, including a lifelong pension. Commission President Juncker had refused to appoint interim commissioners for prematurely retiring members of his team.
Romania and Estonia, whose EU Commissioner Andrus Ansip has also moved to the EU Parliament, insisted, however, on being represented in Juncker’s team until the end. Estonia has now decided not to appoint a commissioner for the remaining six weeks. “We call on the Romanian government to do the same,” said EPP leader Weber. (Claire Stam,EURACTIV.de)
***Update: Ioan Mircea Pascu posted on Facebook that he was informed by Romania’s ambassador to the EU, Luminita Odobescu, that she was instructed to withdraw his candidacy for interim commissioner.
Protecting our ‘European Way of Life’. Greece’s nominee as its next European Commissioner, Margaritis Schinas, will get one of the vice-presidencies in the new EU executive, being responsible for ‘Protecting our European Way of Life’.
Schinas’s portfolio has pleased Athens, considering that the migration crisis and Turkey’s unpredictable stance on the issue have topped the agenda of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
In addition, the New Democracy government (EPP) has said it aims to completely review and modernise the country’s education system and link it with the labour market’s needs.
Mitsotakis commented that Schinas’s vice-presidency is further “proof” that Greece is now upgrading to a “factor of strength and growth on the European scene”.
He added that border protection, collective security and mobility opportunities in employment, education and culture are key challenges. “Particularly in the first area, Greece as a European border country relies heavily on the new Vice-President of the Commission,” he said.
Main opposition leftist Syriza party didn’t comment officially, but Syriza MEP Kostas Arvanitis made a rather ironic statement saying that “protecting our European way of life” is just another way of accepting Orban’s practices and fighting refugees. (Theodore Karaoulanis, EURACTIV.gr)
Brits criticise Schinas’s portfolio. Labour MEP Claude Moraes said that “calling the European Commission migration portfolio ‘protecting our way of life’ is deeply insulting”, while Green MEP Molly Scott Cato told The Independent: “This looks like the portfolio to fight back against the rise of the fascists, but only by adopting their divisive rhetoric around ‘strong borders’.
“What Greens value about our European way of life is our role as a beacon of compassion and diversity. We will continue our work to ensure that Europe remains a safe harbour for those fleeing persecution and to champion global human rights,” she said.
Opposition: Bulgaria misses out. Bulgarian PM Boyko Borissov expressed his satisfaction for the portfolio attributed to Mariya Gabriel (Innovation and Youth), calling it “extremely important and modern”.
Borissov posted on Facebook that this portfolio’s budget of €100 billion is the third largest. He thanked the Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen for having kept her word by attributing to Bulgaria a portfolio dealing with education, innovation and new technologies. [More]
Conversely, Denitsa Zlateva, on behalf of the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), said that Bulgaria lost the opportunity for a much higher post, recalling that Borissov rejected the chance of Bulgaria obtaining the post of EU foreign affairs chief, because the Prime Minister said such a post does not allocate money. (Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV.com)
EURACTIV Romania reports that centrist Renew Europe has said already they would vote against Romania’s Commissioner Rovana Plumb. Former PM Victor Ponta said Romania should prepare a backup just in case Plumb is rejected by the EU House, while Siegfried Mureșan, an EPP MEP, said the Romanian government failed in getting a VP position for Romania.
As for the transport portfolio, EURACTIV.ro’s Bogdan Neagu commented: “Romania has one of the poorest infrastructures in Europe, few kilometres of highways, no high speed rails and the highest rate of road deaths in the EU”. (EURACTIV.ro)
Mixed reactions. The reactions to Maroš Šefčovič’s portfolio of inter-institutional relations have been mixed. While there is recognition, for example from the Prime Minister, that Šefčovič managed to keep the VP position (for the third time), the inter-institutional agenda is widely seen as “weaker”, somehow less influential or with less relevance to Slovakia compared to the Energy Union, which Šefčovič currently oversees.
Opposition politicians interpret Šefčovič not getting a “strong economic portfolio” as a result of a weak bargaining position of the current government.
President Zuzana Čaputová, to whom Šefčovič lost the national election, said she was confident that Šefčovič has all the prerequisites for the new job. Šefčovič himself is especially pleased with the strategic outlook part of his new duties that he deems a continuation of his previous work.
He was also able to keep his pet project – leading the European Battery Alliance, which, according to Šefčovič, “has a strategic impact on how will the automotive industry in Europe and in Slovakia look like and I believe that it will serve as a guidance on how to address technological challenges also in other areas.” (Zuzana Gabrižová,EURACTIV.sk)
Important seat, but weak portfolio? Czech Commissioner Věra Jourová has been put forward for a VP seat in the Commission. “It was my priority to gain such an influential post for the Czech Republic. It is a prestigious position with high influence in Brussels, a significant and conceptual post,” Czech PM Andrej Babiš told Czech News Agency.
On the other hand, she should be responsible for the values and transparency portfolio, which is considered as weak both by analysts and opposition. “Her new portfolio has no real influence and the prime minister lies to the public when he said that the negotiations were developing well,” said Petr Fiala, leader of the main opposition Civic Democrats (ECR) party.
Babis said Jourová could deal now with risks the EU is faced with, such as the manipulation of elections, online calls for violence or cyber bullying. “All these are the issues that influence our lives, the lives of our children and consequently the further development of Europe, the European civilisation,” Babis said.
>Read EURACTIV.com’s senior editor Georgi Gotev comment on the issue: Jourová and Reynders: EU’s good cop – bad cop?
Slovenian satisfaction (sort of). Slovenian Prime Minister Marjan Šarec is satisfied with the crisis management portfolio that Janez Lenarčič has obtained. “It is a good portfolio with quite large budgetary resources at his disposal,” Šarec said. However, Slovenia is not entirely happy considering that it wanted the enlargement file, which was given to Hungary.
Meanwhile, Croatia has been in the spotlight again: Milan Brglez, an MEP and former speaker of the parliament, said he was very worried because Zagreb got the democracy portfolio. “Croatia does not respect the European and international law”, he said, referring to the Arbitration decision on the border between two states. Croatia stepped out of the arbitration process after media reports that secret conversations had been held between a judge at the Court and the Slovenian representative. (Željko Trkanjec,EURACTIV.hr)
Croatia’s Dubravka Šuica became a vice president of the European Commission with the portfolio of demography and democracy. Davor Bernardić, leader of SDP (S&D) said Dubravka Šuica was not appropriate for this portfolio because “150,000 people left Croatia when her party HDZ (EPP) ruled the country”. Anka Mrak Taritaš from the GLAS (RE) party said Dubravka Šuica was benevolent to Hungarian PM Viktor Orban when he was attacking democracy.
On the other hand, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković was enthusiastic and emphasised that as of 18 September, Croatia will have two women in the two highest positions in Europe taking care of democracy: Dubravka Šuica as Commission VP and Marija Pejčinović Burić as Secretary-General of the Council of Europe. (Željko Trkanjec,EURACTIV.hr)
Serbia pleased with Hungarian enlargement Commissioner. As an EU candidate, Serbia has been eager to learn of the next enlargement commissioner.
According to the European Movement Serbia general secretary, Suzana Grubjesic, Hungarian Lazlo Trocsanyi is welcomed by Serbia as he comes from a country that is strongly pro-enlargement.
“Unfortunately, the EU does not speak in one voice on enlargement, and it will be difficult for him to convince the representatives of some member states that enlargement is necessary and welcomed,” Grubjesic told BETA and EURACTIV.rs.
“Serious material and human resources are needed to restore the credibility of enlargement, which must not remain on the sidelines of the European policy,” she added. Officially, there have been no reactions so far.
Meanwhile, Balkan expert from the University of Graz Florian Bieber said the new commissioner for enlargement is “an accomplice in the disassembly of the rule of law in Hungary to Prime Minister [Viktor] Orban” and should not be in charge of that portfolio. (beta.rs,EURACTIV.rs)
[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos and Samuel Stolton]