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Building a new Commission – the runners and riders for the next College

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With the choice of a President of the European Commission still up in the air, we are a long way off knowing the full team that will occupy the upper floors of the Berlaymont for the next five years.

Nevertheless, national governments are already putting forward their proposed nominees to sit in the new College. Here’s our look at the comings and goings in the Commission in 2014, and the potential candidates to take a seat in the new Commission.

Farewell to the old…

Many of the current commissioners have already announced that they will not stand for another term (such as the President, José Manuel Barroso) or are unlikely to be re-nominated due to their party being out of government at a national level. Those most likely to depart include:

  • Androulla Vassiliou (Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth; Cyprus)
  • Connie Hedegaard (Climate Action; Denmark)
  • Olli Rehn (Economic and Monetary Affairs; Finland) – elected as an MEP in May
  • Michel Barnier (Internal Market and Services; France)
  • Maria Damanaki (Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Greece)
  • László Andor (Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion; Hungary)
  • Máire Geoghegan Quinn (Research, Innovation and Science; Ireland)
  • Antonio Tajani (Vice-President for Industry and Entrepreneurship; Italy) – elected as an MEP in May
  • Viviane Reding (Vice-President for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship; Luxembourg) – elected as an MEP in May
  • Tonio Borg (Health; Malta)
  • Joaquín Almunia (Vice-President for Competition; Spain)
  • Catherine Ashton (High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, and Vice-President; United Kingdom)

…and welcome to the new… starting with the President…

The President of the Commission is the central figure in the selection of the new College. His or her election affects the negotiations both on the allocation of portfolios and choice of commissioners (the latter task being formally shared with national leaders, the former also being an issue on which prime ministers exert an influence).

At present, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European People’s Party candidate and former prime minister of Luxembourg, is in pole position, but his nomination by the European Council is far from a done deal. If alternative candidates are put forward there is a high chance that at least the first name will be rejected by the European Parliament in protest at leaders ignoring ‘the will of the people’.

The votes of 376 out of 751 MEPs – in a secret ballot – are needed to elect a Commission president. The European Council is due to nominate a candidate on 26-27 June and this candidate would then be presented for election by the European Parliament on 14-17 July. Delays are possible, or even likely.

…and then the rest of the Commission

With no Commission president for the 2014-2019 College in place until at least mid-July, it is difficult to say with any certainty who will be a member of the next European Commission.

At present, only a handful of EU member state governments have ‘nominated’ a person to sit in the Commission. However, the nominations are not faits accomplis; again, the choice of candidates is, under the treaties, a joint task for member states and the President-elect of the Commission.

Those people ‘nominated’ so far include:

  • Maroš Šefcovic (Vice-President for Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration; Slovakia) – elected as an MEP in May, but will not take up his seat
  • Andrus Ansip (former Estonian prime minister) – elected as an MEP in May
  • Karmenu Vella (former Maltese tourism minister)
  • Neven Mimica (Commissioner for Consumer Protection; Croatia) – elected as an MEP in May, but will not take up his seat
  • Valdis Dombrovskis (former Latvian prime minister) – elected as an MEP in May

In addition, there are strong rumours about other candidates. Jyrki Katainen will stand down as Finnish Prime Minister this weekend and is expected to join the Commission as early as 1 July, with Olli Rehn having won election to the European Parliament. In any case, Katainen is likely to be in the next Commission and is a possible compromise candidate to be the President.

Radosław Sikorski, Poland’s Foreign Minister, has been suggested as the next High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy; Miguel Arias Cañete, formerly agriculture minister of Spain, was elected to the European Parliament in May and is expected to be nominated by the Spanish government.

In addition, Pierre Moscovici, France’s finance minister from 2012 to 2014, hinted when losing his former job that he would become France’s next Commission nominee, although nothing was confirmed officially. Rumours from governments in the United Kingdom and Germany suggest a nomination for Andrew Lansley (a former health secretary) and Günther Oettinger (the current Energy Commissioner) respectively.

Building a team, not just individuals…

Two things are striking about the names raised so far.

One is the quality: three of the ‘nominees’ have been prime minister of their country within the last twelve months. Two former commissioners – one (Mimica) a former deputy prime minister – are likely to return, and others may join them. Senior former or current ministers are among the other names.

The second is the lack of any women. This will undoubtedly pose a problem for the Commission President-elect, who may have to press some prime ministers to nominate a women to improve the gender balance of the Commission (which was one-third female at the start of the current College).

There are reports that France is having a re-think, for example, and may nominate Catherine Trautmann, an MEP who lost her seat in May’s election, to the Commission. It is even possible that the President-elect will ask governments to name one male and one female nominee to support his or her task.

…and putting the right pegs in the right holes

Another important point to note is the wish of nearly all those countries who have ‘nominated’ people so far to have an economic or financial portfolio: Ansip, Katainen and Dombrovskis – and their governments – seek such a portfolio. The Poles have indicated their wish for such a role, possibly valuing it higher than the position of High Representative. Romania’s desire to maintain the agriculture portfolio seems to be the motivation behind a re-nomination of Dacian Cioloș.

Yet there aren’t that many key economic roles available, and some governments will be disappointed, perhaps seeking compensation in the promotion of officials in the Commission services. A few governments – especially the United Kingdom – have expended political capital on fighting a battle on the choice of a Commission president, and may not be in a position to secure a leading role.

Spain is thought to want the Eurogroup presidency, so may have to settle for a lesser role in the Commission; the UK is said to want the energy portfolio for Lansley but his poor communication skills, and the UK’s disruptive approach, may count against him. France is said to want the competition portfolio.

New portfolios may be created or renamed; the consumer protection portfolio may be rolled back into the health portfolio although it is difficult to see many other meaningful portfolios being created from splitting existing portfolios. One option is to split financial services from the internal market portfolio or to split the large – but perhaps not overly burdensome – education, multilingualism, youth and culture portfolio. One change to reflect political priorities could be an upgrading of the employment portfolio or a special portfolio focused on youth unemployment.

Those member states who have already revealed their likely nominees will hope to secure a senior position by virtue of being in the game early. The choice of former prime ministers would indicate a desire to have a vice-presidential role which, depending on how the new Commission president organises his or her team, could have an enhanced coordination role, grouping nominally-equal commissioners together in order to streamline the Commission’s operation.

A version of this article first appeared on the Europe Decides website