European Commission 2019 - 2024

The shape of the von der Leyen Commission was announced today with a number of changes to the leaked version at the weekend.

Please click on the candidates below for their respective bios

The highlights include:

  • The goal of gender balance was more or less achieved with 14 men and 13 women (compared to the 19/9 split in the Juncker Commission). MEPs are pleased!
  • Geographical balance, notably missing from the share-out of top jobs, was recognised with 4 of the 8 vice-presidencies going to central and eastern Europe. The choice of the Czech Jourova to deal with values and transparency will also have gone down well following the souring of relations on rule of law.
  • Timmermans will lead work on the flagship European Green Deal – overseeing Commissioners for agriculture, health, transport, energy, cohesion and reforms and environment and oceans
  • Vestager retains Competition (not going to the French as leaked) and leads the work on making Europe fit for the digital age.
  • Dombrovskis comes in as the 3rd Executive VP on the Economy and Financial Services, ensuring the EPP have a senior VP alongside S&D and RE. He will also be expected to keep an eye on the Italian Gentilioni in charge of the Economy (and hence Italy’s compliance with EU budget rules) and their relationship will be one to follow. The EPP are already making unhappy noises.
  • The 3 executive VPs will play a dual role, coordinating a headline ambition as well as directly managing a policy area ie Timmermans will have direct control of DG CLIMA which Sefcovic never had.
  • The other 5 VPs are Borrell (foreign), Jourova (values & transparency), Schinas(protecting European way of life), Sefcovic (inter-institutional relations & foresight) and Suica (democracy & demographics). The titles reflect a move away from mirroring DG names, focusing on tasks rather than hierarchies, but has already raised concerns ie migration policy described as “protecting European way of life” has not gone down well.
  • Other notable innovations include Environment & Oceans going to the 28 year-old Green from Lithuania; Energy going to the Estonian Kadri Simson; Transport to Romania and Internal market, defence, DSM and industrial policy all going to France’s Sylvie Goulard. As expected, Trade (plus Brexit negotiations) goes to Hogan, Agriculture to Poland and Research to Gabriel from Bulgaria (even though the word research is dropped from her title).
  • Each Commissioner received a  mission letters setting out their key areas of work
  • New working methods set out including Commissioner groups chaired by the relevant Executive VP; Sec Gen to chair Interservice groups. The most vocal opposition is to the proposed “one in, one out” policy of scrapping a regulation for every new one. The Greens have already dubbed this “better regulation on steroids” and fear it will weaken environmental protection.
  • Some changes have been made to which DGs will support each Commissioner (ie two units on pharma and medical devices move from DG GROW to DG SANTE.
  • On Brexit, Mrs von der Leyen said the UK would have to nominate a Commissioner and be assigned a portfolio if there was an extension. She may also try and persuade Barnier to stay on in the event of an extension.

Timetable for Parliamentary hearings:

  • 16 September: committees submit 5 specific questions for their Commissioner plus 2 common questions for all Commissioners
  • 30 September – 8 October: public hearings in the competent committees, allowing time before the 21-24 October plenary for any follow-up questionnaires, 2nd hearings or new nominations in the event of a committee rejecting a candidate. Candidates need the support of coordinators representing two-thirds of committee membership or risk more written questions or a 2nd hearing.
  • 23 October: The EP is due to vote by a majority of votes cast and by roll call the whole Commission, which would then take up office on 1 November.
  • The candidates seen most at risk are the Hungarian Trocsanyi (EPP) who as Justice Minister is considered too closely linked to the judicial reforms that soured relations with Brussels and for the Socialists, Rovana Plumb (RO) who is under investigation in the Belina case. The Polish candidate (ECR) is also under investigation from OLAF but hopes his time as an MEP will win him friends.

The von der Leyen Commission begins to take shape - 29 July

The von der Leyen Commission is slowly taking shape, with 20 of the 28 Member States having already nominated their candidates. There is some continuity, with at least eight Commissioners returning, most notably the “first among equals”, Frans Timmermans and Margrethe Vestager, who will be the 1st VPs. Two current VPs, Valdis Dombrovskis and Maros Sefcovic, are also coming back and will be expecting roles commensurate with their experience.

The gender balance is slowly evening out, following Ursula von der Leyen’s pledge to have a gender neutral Commission. The ratio currently stands at 11 men and 8 women. This puts the pressure on the remaining countries to come forward with female candidates but the leading contenders from Italy, Portugal and Lithuania are all men. There is a real risk that if the College is too unbalanced that it could be thrown out by the Parliament, still smarting from its defeat on the Spitzenkandidat process.

Few of the new Commissioners are household names but there is at least one well-known face in Brussels, Juncker’s former spokesman Margaritis Schinas. As a former Greek MEP he knows the Parliament well, as does the new Polish Commissioner, Krzysztof Szczerski, who worked for a number of years as a policy advisor in the ECR group, before moving on to become President Andrzej Duda’s Head of Cabinet. He is unlikely to be a disruptive force in the Commission and fears that Italy or Hungary could put forward hostile candidates also seems to have dissipated. The Lega in Italy are due to put forward the name of Giancarlo Giorgetti, an under-secretary of state in the Council of Ministers, and they are aiming for the competition portfolio.

Brexit, as ever, is threatening to impact on the new Commission, which is due to take office on 1 November, one day after the UK is set to leave the EU. New Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that as the UK will have left, he will not be proposing a replacement for Sir Julian King. What happens if the UK is granted a further extension remains to be seen, but you could envisage Sir Julian staying in office for a short extension, maybe holding on to the Security brief that is one area the EU is keen to maintain close links with the UK.

Von der Leyen’s chief of staff set to head her cabinet ( 23 July)

It has been widely reported that Bjoern Seibert, the head of Ursula von der Leyen’s transition team and her Chief of Staff in the German Defence Ministry, will become her Chef de Cabinet. Please see below a short bio produced by our Berlin office. Given his lack of Brussels experience, her deputy chef de cabinet is likely to be a Commission insider and we’ll listen out for names.

Bjoern H. Seibert

Bjoern Seibert is currently serving as Chief of Staff of Ursula von der Leyen. Previously he was Deputy Chief of Staff, Coordinator for Europe and Commissioner for Strategic Management of National and International Armament Activities at the German Defence Ministry, a Non-Resident Fellow at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University, an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), a Research Associate at the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) at the U.S. Army War College, a Research Analyst at the Foreign and Defense Policy Studies Program at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) and a Teaching Fellow at the Department of Government at Harvard University.

He is widely published on security and defence matters, and his work has been cited by major publications around the world, including The New York Times, Le Monde and The Economist, as well as specialized defence publications such as Jane’s Defence Weekly and DefenseNews. He has also given numerous interviews to major international media outlets.

Bjoern Seibert has studied at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, MIT, Georgetown and Harvard University. He is currently completing his PhD at the University of Cambridge (King’s College).

He is also on the list of people who will be questioned by the members of the parliamentary investigation committee which was set up to examine the affair around external consultants in the ministry.

Final Committtee appointments made

EMPL have also finally elected their Chairman after twice voting down former Polish PM Beata Szydlo and I attach our updated infographic on committee chairmen.

AGRI today elected the Spanish Vox MEP, Mazaly Aguilar (ECR/ES) as 3rdVP, who beat off the challenge from the Socialist candidate Clara Aguilera (S&D/ES) by 27 votes to 20.  Her election had been in doubt with the Left wanting to spread the cordon sanitaire around the new far-right Vox party. AGRI went on to elect Elsi Katainen (RE/FI) as 4th VP and so complete the Bureau

Von der Leyen narrowly elected Commission President (17 July)

Ursula von der Leyen (VDL) was elected as the first female President of the European Commission on Tuesday 16 July. Here are some initial thoughts on the vote:

  • Wafer thin majority: She scraped through by only 9 votes but Barroso II and Santer were also elected on tiny majorities. Finding a working, stable majority will be her main task and the vote shows this will be no easy task in this fragmented, ill-disciplined parliament.
  • Pro-European majority?: Socialist leader Iraxte Garcia Perez said VDL was elected on the back of a pro-European majority,  including most of her group, but the numbers indicate that she relied on the votes of the 26 Polish Law & Justice and 14 Italian 5-Star to get her over the threshold. Although the leaders of all the main far-right parties said they would not back her, there are rumours that even the 28 Italian Lega supported her. Garcia hit back saying VDL was supported for proposing a progressive, pro-European agenda and delivering that will be how she is judged.
  • Party discipline and unity: the numbers would indicate that, as with the vote on Sassoli as EP President, about 100 votes from the EPP, S&D and Renew Europe went missing. This indicates how difficult group cohesion will be to maintain and how majorities will fluctuate. Votes in committee on key dossiers could end up being very close.
  • S&D divided: In the end over 100 Socialists were expected to have voted for VDL to ensure stability and avoid an institutional crisis. However there were at least 37 votes against from the Germans (16), Dutch (6) French (5), Austrian (5), Belgians (3), Greeks (2). The Dutch seem to have voted against despite their leader, Frans Timmermans, tweeting his congratulations for her democratic mandate and looking forward to working together to deliver her “green and social programme”.
  • Polish support: The support offered by Law & Justice, following on from the 2nd rejection of former PM Beata Szydlo as EMPL Chairman, is harder to understand and rumours are they are looking for concessions on the MFF.
  • Gender balanced Commission: She quickly called for PMs to send her good female candidates to ensure a gender balanced Commission. 12 Member States have already confirmed their nominations ( 7 men, 5 women) but most of the names circulating in the remaining member states are men.
  • Commission hearings could be tough: having lost out on the Spitzenkandidaten process and forced to accept the Council’s candidate for Commission, we can expect MEPs to be particularly tough at the hearings. The vote to invest the whole college at the end of October may prove another occasion for unhappy MEPs to vent their frustration.