While many were probably enjoying the calm summer period, European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has been in full speed mode for the past couple of months trying to get the leaders of the different EU member states to name their official candidates for the next European Commission. With the deadline for nominations passed, we can now create a picture of what the next EU executive might look like.
The process of forming a new College has not been without obstacles. Belgium struggled to nominate a candidate as no government has been formed yet after the May election. France failed to meet von der Leyen’s 26th August deadline after President Macron asked for an extension. And Italy put forward a candidate only yesterday as the domestic political crisis was taking hold of the government’s agenda. With the UK refusing to put forward any candidate, there are now 27 names available of politicians who aspire to take a seat in the 2019-2024 College.
A quick overview of some of the candidates:
The next President of the European Commission will not have one right hand, but two. As part of the package deal made by EU leaders, it was decided that von der Leyen will have two First Vice-Presidents: the Dutch Frans Timmermans (social democrats – S&D) and the Danish Margrethe Vestager (liberal – Renew Europe). With the German von der Leyen representing the Christian democratic group (EPP), this “trio-presidency” aims to reflect the political balance from the European elections.
Other notable candidates include the French liberal Sylvie Goulard, former Member of the European Parliament (MEP) whose party allegedly misused EU funds, Virginijus Sinkevičius from Lithuania, who is currently the only candidate representing the Greens and Janusz Wojciechowski, the conservative Polish candidate who was nominated after the previous one withdrew after realising Poland would be offered the agriculture portfolio. Another country bagging a big post is Spain, with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Josep Borrell, being nominated by EU leaders as High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The current picture shows eight candidates from the EPP, eight representing the S&D, five from Renew Europe, one Green, one conservative and two unaffiliated candidates.
It is now time for von der Leyen to meet with the candidates, and only after these meetings take place will an official list with their names and assigned portfolios be published. The division of portfolios in itself is a highly political issue whereby von der Leyen will have to find a balance between Western and Eastern Member States when assigning the most popular and high-impact portfolios, such as competition, trade and the economy. Von der Leyen is expected to publish the list on 15th September.
All the nominees will then have to face MEPs in Committee hearings in late September. A confirmation vote on the College as a whole will then be held in October, with the European Commission expected to take office on 1st November.
Before then, it will be interesting to see whether nominees will pass the Parliament’s scrutiny. It is not unheard of for MEPs to block candidates. During the last confirmation hearings in 2014, the candidate from Slovenia, Alenka Bratušek, was rejected by the European Parliament after a very poor performance during her confirmation hearing. Current President Jean-Claude Juncker recently declared that he himself had also rejected six nominations prior to publishing his list.
This goes to show that nothing is certain at this stage. Aside from linking names to portfolios, von der Leyen is also expected to restructure her College to provide European Commission Vice-Presidents with greater power by, for example, giving them direct access to Commission staff to inform legislation. This is particularly important for those businesses and organisations that seek to feed into the EU’s legislative discussions next term.
With both the structure and the format of the next European Commission still very much up in the air, we will – for now – have to sit tight and see how these changes will impact the EU’s course over the next five years.
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