Time for a New European Commission!

It may be getting into vacation season in the EU, but now that a new European Commission President has been agreed upon by the European Council (he’s Portugal’s José Manuel Barroso, of course) the horse-trading and dealing surrounding the question of just who will be on the new Commission (which takes office November 1) is starting in earnest. The leading Czech business newspaper, Hospodárské noviny covers the action (The Battle Begins Over the Composition of the European Commission), and notes that this time the issue is complicated by the fact that, with this transition, the Commission will go from a system where the five biggest lands get two commissioners and everyone else one (so that there have been thirty of these since the enlargement in May) to a system where every country gets one (thus there are twenty-five in total.)

Fortunately, the (unnamed) HN writer reports that EU insiders are confident that it will be possible to divide up the Commission’s portfolios among twenty-five persons in a way that gives everyone meaningful work to do. And this even without introducing the idea of “groups” or “clusters,” the brainchild of outgoing Commission President Romano Prodi, whereby the work would be organized by grouping some portfolios (in subordination) around “supercommissioners” responsible for various subjects (e.g. economic policy). The European Parliament has already expressed its displeasure with this “clustering” idea, since it would lead to the Orwellian situation of “all equal, but some more equal than others,” with “supercommissioners” inevitably coming out of the Union’s bigger countries.


But being a big country still inevitably has its privileges. For one thing, those closed-door negotiations about the Commission that Barroso is embarking upon are mainly with representatives of those big countries. There are still plenty of ways to make “some more equal than others,” including who Barroso chooses to anoint as deputy Commission presidents (there are two presently; apparently Barroso can make as many or as few as he wants of these). And of course some Commission portfolios are inevitably “more equal than others,” such as those for foreign affairs, for internal competition (i.e. anti-monopoly), or for monetary affairs, which you can reasonably expect to go the larger countries. Still, if you think about this a little, even this arrangement could result in strange, even outrageous results. In words HN quotes from an unnamed Commission official: “Should a German be responsible for the currency, whose country has notoriously violated the euro’s deficit limits? Should a Frenchman guide economic competition, whose government has had one struggle after another on that score [e.g. for illegal state aid to industry] with the Commission? Then the fox will truly be in charge of the henhouse, and we can all pack it in” – although linguists will be interested to learn that in Czech it’s not “fox in charge of the henhouse” but “the goat becomes the gardener”!

With respect to the actual faces he will have sitting around the table come next November, though, the task for Barroso of making up his new Commission is easier than usual. Another way of saying this is that, in reality, he does not have the free choice that he theoretically should have in picking these personnel. For one thing, it is considered very unlikely that he will pass over any of the ten commissioners from the brand-new member-states, who after all at this point have held the office for a total of just over two months. Nor will he pass over any of the few other commissioners who have similarly taken up their jobs just recently. It’s also unlikely that he will reject commissioners when their governments make it clear that they want them to stay on, and this is said to be the case for Germany (Verheugen), Sweden (Wallström), Italy (Monti), and Luxembourg (Reding). All of this results in 18 of the next Commission’s members already being known, and for those keeping score HN lists them for us (but forgets to include the commissioner from Slovenia – how do you like that! That’s Janez Potocnik – probably because the writer confused him, as usual, with the one from Slovakia):

  • France: Jacque Barrot
  • Germany: Günter Verheugen
  • Spain: Joaquín Almunia
  • Italy: Mario Monti
  • Greece: Stavros Dimas
  • Finland: Olli Rehn
  • Sweden: Margot Wallström
  • Luxembourg: Viviane Reding
  • Poland: Danuta Hübner
  • Czech Republic: Pavel Telicka
  • Slovakia: Ján Figel’
  • Hungary: Péter Balász
  • Lithuania: Dahlia Grybauskaité
  • Latvia: Sandra Kalniete
  • Estonia: Siim Kallas
  • Malta: Joe Borg
  • Cyprus: Marcos Kyprianu

But note: Péter Balász might be doubtful for Hungary, because he was explicitly named for only a term of six months, and because it seems that Hungary’s current foreign minister, Lászlo Kovács (who outranks Balász, so to speak) has his eye on the job. And for the Czech Republic Vladimír Spidla might replace Pavel Telicka – the former (former premier, that is) is without a job since his government fell just over a week ago, and is probably just moping around now in a depressive funk. But HN considers it unlikely that this switch will happen.


Finally, remember that all of this is supposed to be subject to approval by the European Parliament – at least to the extent that the EP has to accept or reject the proposed Commission en bloc. They wouldn’t dare reject them all, would they? Actually, the EP has the power to accept or reject the proposed Commission President, Barroso, individually, and there have been hot words arising out of some EP fractions that that’s what they want to do. In any case, various individual EP members have promised a “grilling” of Commission candidates during hearings scheduled for the end of September/beginning of October. And remember, HN warns, that after last month’s EP elections almost 60% of the European Parliament’s members come from the opposition parties in their respective member-states.

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