The new European Commission

Berlaymont_01.jpg

The selection of a new European Commission, never the simplest of political tasks, has this year been more complex than ever. Politically and institutionally, 2009 came with a whole range of permutations regarding the 'how?', 'when?' and 'who?' of the next EU executive.

Background

The Irish 'yes' to the Lisbon Treaty in a second referendum in October (EURACTIV 03/10/09) and the subsequent signature of the text by Czech President Václav Klaus (EURACTIV 03/11/09) ended almost a decade of constitutional debate in the European Union.

It culminated on 19 November with the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy as the first permanent EU president and Baroness Catherine Ashton as High Representative for Foreign Affairs (EURACTIV 20/11/09).

Even though the mandate of the current Commission ended on 31 October 2009, it remained in place until the new college had been approved on 9 February 2010 (EURACTIV 09/02/10).

On 27 November, EU Commission President José Manuel Barroso revealed his "new team" - the 27 Commissioner-designates and the portfolios they were expected to be assigned (EURACTIV 27/11/09).

Issues

Barroso II

Barroso won unanimous backing from EU heads of state and government at a June 2009 summit for a second five-year mandate at the head of the European Commission (EURACTIV 19/06/09), and on 16 September the European Parliament approved him to steer the European Commission for a second five-year term - not only under the terms of the current Nice Treaty, but also under the tougher criteria of the Lisbon Treaty, which came into force in December 2009.

Two 'new top jobs'

The Treaty of Lisbon introduces the new 'top jobs' of a high-profile president to chair EU summit meetings for a two-and-a-half year term and a High Representative for Foreign Affairs, who will also be a vice-president of the European Commission (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Choosing Mr(s). Europe').

Public opinion and the European press have been widely critical of the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton to the EU's new top positions, with Germany in particular feeling it had been tricked into accepting a bad deal (EURACTIV 23/11/09).

The appointments highlighted the European Union's reluctance to choose a high-profile president who can see eye-to-eye with other world leaders. Van Rompuy will be more of a "chairman" than a leader, according to Thierry Chopin, director of the Robert Schuman Foundation think-tank, in an interview with EURACTIV France (EURACTIV 23/11/09).

All this will have an impact on the functioning and portfolio allocation of the new Barroso Commission.

Three 'new' commissioner portfolios

Presenting his plans for the new Commission, Barroso confirmed that he envisages a commissioner responsible for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship. This is no surprise, as Liberal (ALDE) leader Guy Verhofstadt made his group's support for Barroso conditional on the creation of such a post (EURACTIV 15/07/09).

The Commissioner-designate for this new job is Luxembourg's outgoing Commissioner Viviane Reding.

Barroso also created a commissioner for Home Affairs (internal affairs and migration), and another one for "climate action". Until now, the Commission has had portfolios for environment and energy, but not a specific post for climate affairs. He also said he planned to create the new post of chief scientific advisor (EURACTIV 25/09/09).

Nine women on board

Nine women have been designated members of the next EU executive, matching the number of the outgoing college (EURACTIV 25/11/09).

EU leaders seem to have listened to President Barroso. In a letter to EU heads of state and government, Barroso stressed the importance of gender balance in his new college of commissioners. "To allow me to propose a properly balanced team […] I urge you to see gender balance as a common goal and a shared responsibility," he said last month, calling on leaders to "pay particular attention to the presence of women in the college as our discussions continue towards conclusion" (EURACTIV 22/10/09).

Indded, alongside nationality, geography (North-South, East-West), the size of the country and political affiliation, gender can also be seen as a criterion when European leaders horse-trade over top EU jobs. According to the Commission's roadmap for equality between women and men, "women continue to be under-represented in political and economic decision-making".

Currently, only two of the 27 EU heads of state and government are women: Angela Merkel in Germany and Dalia Grybauskaite in Lithuania. The Commission has never had a female president, while just two of 13 European Parliament presidents have been female since direct elections were introduced in 1979. These were both Frenchwomen, Simone Veil (1979-1982) and Nicole Fontaine (1999-2002).

Returning to national service

In January, EURACTIV broke the story that the next European Commission may feature as many as twenty new faces (EURACTIV 28/01/09), with most of its current members expected to leave the EU executive on their own initiative or as a result of changing national political contexts. In the end, thirteen commissioners will stay in office according to the list of 'commissioners-designate for the next Commission' published on 25 November 2009, three of them having been members of the 2004-2009 Commission for less than six months (see table below).

It is relatively common for commissioners to leave their positions during or at the end of their mandates in order to take national office, usually in government. High-profile 'defectors' in 2008 included Peter Mandelson (EURACTIV 06/10/08) and Franco Frattini (EURACTIV 10/03/08).

Critics often argue that this weakens the Commission, both in terms of its administrative continuity and general public perception. Indeed, earlier this year, Dalia Grybauskait?, at the time the EU's commissioner for budget and financial planning, left Brussels to successfully run for the Lithuanian presidency (EURACTIV 18/05/09).

Of particular interest this year, however, was the fact that a number of commissioners put themselves forward for June's EU elections as high-profile names on their national party lists. According to EU rules, if commissioners choose to return to their home countries to engage in active campaigning, they must leave their positions. However, if they simply attach their name to a party list, they are not required to step down.

As a result, a commissioner could in theory head an electoral list in their member state and win many votes due to his/her high profile, then decide to not take up their seat in the European Parliament, thus passing their seat to the next person on the list and all the while continuing to work for the EU executive. Indeed, this is precisely what happened when Commissioners Meglena Kuneva, Louis Michel, Danuta Hübner and Viviane Reding topped polls in Bulgaria, Belgium, Poland and Luxembourg respectively. Only Hübner and Michel decided to enter the new Parliament.

Commissioners' hearings: Jeleva failed

All commissioners-designate had to undergo a three-hour Q&A session with MEPs from the parliamentary committee(s) responsible for the portfolio concerned.

Bulgarian Commissioner-designate Rumiana Jeleva (International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response) flopped at her hearing in the development committee, failing to counter accusations of conflict of interest and giving disappointing answers on policy issues (EURACTIV 13/01/10). She resigned on 19 January (EURACTIV 20/01/10).

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov then appointed Kristalina Georgieva as commissioner-designate to replace Jeleva (EURACTIV 21/01/10).

Georgieva was attributed the same portfolio as Jeleva (International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response) (EURACTIV 22/01/10). She passed her 3 February hearing in the European Parliament (EURACTIV 04/02/10).

Table of commissioners:

Country

2004-2009: Name and role of commissioner 

2009-2014: Commissioner-designate

2009-2014: Portfolio

EURACTIV coverage

Portugal

José Manuel Barroso

President

Reappointed.

Barroso will serve another term as president, and with a reinforced mandate could construct a more dynamic, policy-driven role for himself.

EURACTIV 24/09/09

EURACTIV 24/09/09

EURACTIV 16/09/09

Sweden

Margot Wallström

Vice-President

Institutional Relations and Communication Strategy

Cecilia Malmström (Swedish Minister for European Affairs, ALDE).

Home Affairs.

EURACTIV 20/01/10

EURACTIV 18/11/09

EURACTIV 09/09/09

EURACTIV 07/09/09

EURACTIV 07/04/08

Germany

Günter Verheugen

Vice-President

Enterprise and Industry

Günther Oettinger (minister-president of Baden-Württemberg since 2005, Christian Democrat).

Energy.

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 18/12/09

EURACTIV 27/11/09

EURACTIV 01/10/09

EURACTIV 26/10/09

EURACTIV 20/05/09

EURACTIV 23/04/09

EURACTIV 29/09/08

France

Jacques Barrot

Vice-President

Justice, Freedom and Security

Michel Barnier  (MEP, former French Foreign Affairs and Agriculture Minister, EPP).

Internal Market and Services.

EURACTIV 09/02/10

EURACTIV 14/01/10

EURACTIV 08/01/10

EURACTIV 02/12/09

EURACTIV 30/11/09

EURACTIV 30/11/09

EURACTIV 23/11/09

EURACTIV 25/06/09

EURACTIV 04/02/09

Estonia

Siim Kallas

Vice-President 

Administrative Affairs, Audit and Anti-Fraud

Siim Kallas (reappointed).

Transport.

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 10/09/09

EURACTIV 27/04/09

EURACTIV 23/03/09

Italy

Antonio Tajani

Vice-President

Transport

Antonio Tajani (reappointed).

Industry and Entrepreneurship. Vice President of the Commission.

EURACTIV 29/01/10

EURACTIV 19/01/10

EURACTIV 01/07/09

EURACTIV 22/01/09

Luxembourg

Viviane Reding

Information Society and Media Commissioner

Viviane Reding (reappointed). 

Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. Vice-President of the Commission. 

EURACTIV 15/02/10

EURACTIV 13/01/09

EURACTIV 23/06/09

EURACTIV 24/02/09

EURACTIV 23/02/09

Greece

Stavros Dimas

Environment Commissioner

Maria Damanaki (member of the Hellenic Parliament within the Panhellenic Socialist Movement, PASOK).

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

EURACTIV 25/11/09

EURACTIV 27/03/09

EURACTIV 09/03/09

EURACTIV 29/01/09

Spain

Joaquín Almunia

Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner

Joaquín Almunia (reappointed).

Competition. Vice-President of the Commission.

EURACTIV 10/02/10

EURACTIV 09/02/10

EURACTIV 13/01/10

EURACTIV 27/11/09

EURACTIV 27/11/09 

EURACTIV 24/09/09

EURACTIV 10/06/09

Poland

Pawe? Samecki 

Regional Policy Commissioner

Janusz Lewandowski  (centre-right MEP and economist from the ruling Civic Platform party). 

Budget and Financial Programming.

EURACTIV 10/02/10

EURACTIV 08/01/09

EURACTIV 01/12/09

EURACTIV 02/09/09

EURACTIV 17/06/09

EURACTIV 10/03/09

Malta

Joe Borg

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner

John Dalli (Social Policy Minister).

Health and Consumer Policy.

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 30/11/09

EURACTIV 23/01/09

EURACTIV 11/09/08

Lithuania

Algirdas Šemeta

Financial Programming and Budget Commissioner

Algirdas Šemeta (reappointed).

Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud.

EURACTIV 21/01/10

EURACTIV 14/01/10

EURACTIV 13/01/10

EURACTIV 27/02/09

Slovenia

Janez Poto?nik

Science and Research Commissioner

Janez Poto?nik (reappointed). 

Environment.

EURACTIV 10/02/10

EURACTIV 14/01/10

EURACTIV 09/04/09

EURACTIV 25/06/09

Slovakia

Maroš Šef?ovi?

Education, Training, Culture and Youth Commissioner

Maroš Šef?ovi? (reappointed).

Vice-President of the Commission for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration.

EURACTIV 05/02/10

EURACTIV 21/01/10

EURACTIV 19/01/10

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 14/01/10

EURACTIV 25/11/09

EURACTIV 20/10/09

EURACTIV 10/09/09

EURACTIV 13/05/09

EURACTIV 15/05/09

Finland

Olli Rehn

Enlargement Commissioner

Olli Rehn (reappointed).

Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. Vice-President of the Commission.

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 12/01/10

EURACTIV 27/11/09

EURACTIV 10/03/09

EURACTIV 10/02/09

Belgium

Karel de Gucht 

Development and Humanitarian Aid Commissioner

Karel De Gucht (reappointed).

Trade.

EURACTIV 13/01/10

EURACTIV 01/12/09

EURACTIV 08/07/09

EURACTIV 05/02/09

Hungary

László Kovács

Taxation and Customs Union Commissioner

László Andor (economist and member of the Board of Directors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development since 2005, not affiliated to any political party).

Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion.

EURACTIV 21/01/10

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 14/01/10

EURACTIV 11/01/01

EURACTIV 06/11/09

EURACTIV 18/07/08

Netherlands

Neelie Kroes

Competition Commissioner

Neelie Kroes (reappointed).

Digital Agenda. Vice-President of the Commission.

EURACTIV 02/02/10

EURACTIV 21/01/10

EURACTIV 20/01/10

EURACTIV 18/01/10

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 25/11/09

EURACTIV 11/09/09

EURACTIV 14/05/09

Denmark

Mariann Fischer Boel

Agriculture and Rural Development Commissioner

Connie Hedegaard (Danish Minister for the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen).

Climate Action.

EURACTIV 26/01/10

EURACTIV 25/11/09

EURACTIV 24/04/09

Austria

Benita Ferrero-Waldner

External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Commissioner

Johannes Hahn (Science Minister).

Regional Policy.

EURACTIV 11/02/10

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 19/12/09

EURACTIV 18/12/09

EURACTIV 03/12/09

EURACTIV 16/04/09

EURACTIV 16/03/09

Ireland

Charlie McCreevy

Internal Market and Services Commissioner

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (Ireland's representative to the European Court of Auditors).

Research and Innovation.

EURACTIV 11/02/10

EURACTIV 21/01/10

EURACTIV 14/01/10

EURACTIV 09/12/09

EURACTIV 30/11/09

EURACTIV 22/10/09

EURACTIV 15/09/09

EURACTIV 06/07/09

Czech Republic

Vladimír Špidla

Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Commissioner

Stefan Füle (European affairs minister).

Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy

EURACTIV 17/02/10

EURACTIV 14/01/10

EURACTIV 15/12/09

EURACTIV 01/12/09

EURACTIV 25/11/09

EURACTIV 03/09/08

EURACTIV 15/12/09

Latvia

Andris Piebalgs

Energy Commissioner

Andris Piebalgs (reappointed).

Development.

EURACTIV 25/11/09

EURACTIV 24/07/09

EURACTIV 17/03/09

Bulgaria

Meglena Kuneva

Consumer Protection Commissioner

Kristalina Georgieva (vice-president of the World Bank).

She replaced Rumiana Jeleva who resigned 19 January (EURACTIV 20/01/10).

International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.

EURACTIV 18/02/10

EURACTIV 12/02/10

EURACTIV 04/02/10

EURACTIV 22/01/10

EURACTIV 21/01/10

EURACTIV 20/01/10

EURACTIV 19/01/10

EURACTIV 18/01/10

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 14/01/10

EURACTIV 13/01/10

EURACTIV 08/01/10

EURACTIV 16/12/09

EURACTIV 01/12/09

EURACTIV 25/11/09

EURACTIV 18/09/09

EURACTIV 10/07/09

EURACTIV 03/02/09

Romania

Leonard Orban

Multilingualism Commissioner

Dacian Ciolos (former Agriculture Minister).

Agriculture and Rural Development.

EURACTIV 18/01/10

EURACTIV 08/01/10

EURACTIV 01/12/09

EURACTIV 01/09/09

EURACTIV 02/04/09

EURACTIV 12/11/08

Cyprus

Androulla Vassiliou

Health Commissioner

Androulla Vassiliou (reappointed).

Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth.

EURACTIV 18/02/10

EURACTIV 15/01/10

EURACTIV 16/02/09

United Kingdom

Catherine Ashton

Trade Commissioner

Catherine Ashton (reappointed).

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Vice-President of the Commission.

EURACTIV 12/01/10

EURACTIV 18/12/09

EURACTIV 18/12/09

EURACTIV 10/12/09

EURACTIV 03/12/09

EURACTIV 03/12/09

EURACTIV 26/11/09

EURACTIV 20/11/09

EURACTIV 19/11/09

EURACTIV 04/02/09

EURACTIV 19/12/09

Timeline

  • 4-7 June 2009: Centre-right wins European Parliament elections, the first step to Barroso's reappointment (EURACTIV 08/06/09). 
  • 1 July 2009: Sweden assumes the rotating EU presidency, with contingency plans for both Lisbon and Nice scenarios for new European Commission. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt strongly supports Barroso's reappointment. 
  • 16 Sept. 2009: José Manuel Barroso reappointed as Commission president (EURACTIV 16/09/09).
  • 2 Oct. 2009: Irish approve Lisbon Treaty in second referendum (EURACTIV 3/10/09).
  • 19 Nov. 2009: Extraordinary EU summit chooses Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as first permanent EU president and current Trade Commissioner Baroness Catherine Ashton as High Representative for Foreign Affairs (EURACTIV 20/11/09).
  • 27 Nov. 2009: Announcement of the new portfolio attributions in new college of commissioners (EURACTIV 27/11/09).
  • 1 Dec. 2009: Entry into force of Lisbon Treaty.
  • 11-19 Jan. 2010: Commissioner hearings in European Parliament.
  • 12 Jan. 2010: Bulgarian commissioner-designate Rumiana Jeleva flops at her hearing (EURACTIV 13/01/10).
  • 19 Jan. 2010: Jeleva resigns (EURACTIV 20/01/10).
  • 3 Feb. 2010: Bulgarian commissioner-designate Kristalina Georgieva’s hearing in European Parliament (EURACTIV 04/02/10).
  • 9 Feb. 2010: Final vote in European Parliament on full Commission (EURACTIV 09/02/10).
  • 10 Feb. 2010: New Commission took office.

Further Reading

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe