“He will be my right-arm,” said European Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker, refering to Frans Timmermans, as he unveiled his new team on Wednesday (10 September), promising a more effective European Union which can deliver results, and restore its lost credibility.
The Dutch Foreign Minister, a social democrat, will watch over the subsidiarity principle, whereby the EU should only intervene where it can act more effectively than national or local governments.
Under the new European Commission lineup, Timmermans will officially be First Vice-President in charge of Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The brand new position reflects the EU’s aim to focus on areas where it can make a difference.
“This is our last chance,” Juncker said in reference to the May European elections, which saw a steep rise of right-wing extremist and eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament.
“We have to present citizens with a European Union which can resolve the big problems and is timid or (non-existent) when it comes to minor problems.”
“We have to do better, we have to do less.”
Six vice-presidents to act as ‘filters’ for Juncker
One big novelty in the new Commission structure is the creation of 6 Vice-President roles without portfolios who will be in charge of coordinating groups of commissioners working in related policy areas.
Most importantly, all vice-presidents will have right of veto, and will have power “to stop any initiative, including legislative initiatives” of commissioners working under their watch, Juncker said.
“Vice-Presidents will lead project teams, steering and coordinating the work of a number of Commissioners. This will ensure a dynamic interaction of all Members of the College, breaking down silos and moving away from static structures,” the Commission explained in a statement.
As an example, Juncker said Valdis Dombrovskis, in charge of the euro and social dialogue, will “work closely” with both the French Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, in charge of economic and monetary affairs, and the Belgian Commissioner Marianne Thyssen, in charge of social affairs.
The pair will report to Dombrovskis “before” an item is put on the agenda of the Commission’s full weekly meeting College meeting, Juncker said, explaining the former Latvian Prime Minister will act as a “filter”.
However, Moscovici will still represent the Commission at the Eurogroup meetings of euro zone economic ministers, Juncker clarified in response to questions from journalists about the distribution of roles.
French opposition politicians were quick to denounce the decision and spoke of an unacceptable “tutelage” for Moscovici.
“For the first time in its history, France has no autonomous European commissioner,” said Philippe Juvin, spokesman of the French Delegation of the centre-right EPP group in the European Parliament. According to Juvin, Moscovici will need to have all his decisions validated before they are agreed to.
“This puts France to shame. It reflects a sad reality: the slow death of the French influence in the EU,” said Juvin.
As First Vice-President, Timmermans’s role will be special, and will include a veto right over any proposal coming from any of the Commission departments. “The First Vice-President can stop any initiative, including legislative initiative, coming from a commissioner’s team,” Juncker said.
Most of the vice-president positions were attributed to former Prime Ministers, reflecting the importance that Juncker gives to the 6 new vice-president roles.
“A prime minister is somebody who coordinates, who animates a group, keeping in mind the big priorities,” Juncker said, adding that one of Timmerman’s main attributions will be the “fight against excessive bureaucracy”.
“The vice presidents are not super-commissioners,” Juncker assured but will act as “filters” for the Commission President.
With 5 former prime ministers, 4 deputy prime ministers, 7 returning Commissioners, 19 former ministers and 8 former MEPs, the Commission has the right team to address a very difficult geopolitical situation and strengthen the economic recovery and build a United Europe that delivers jobs and growth, Juncker said.