About the new European Commission – An ambitious political programme, and some questions on how to implement it

One of the main points of the campaign for European elections last spring was that this time elections would be different. Indeed, for the first time electors were presented with real candidates of the main European political parties. For this reason, the nomination of Mr. Juncker to the post of President of the European Commission came to little surprise, and should be considered as a positive move reinforcing the democratic legitimacy of this institution.

Another proof of the innovative nature of this new Commission is its structure. Out of the 26 Commissioners proposed by President Juncker (the whole College comprises 28 members, including the President himself and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs), 7 have received the qualification of Vice-President and been attributed specific portfolios. Differently from the past, the role of vice-President is no longer only of a purely political nature, as each of them will be responsible for one of the thematic policy areas (so called «project teams») in which the whole spectrum of Commission competences has been divided. These vice-Presidents will have to ensure coordination of the activities and the harmonization of policy orientations suggested by individual Commissioners on issues falling under their competence; their «coordination» power might very well include a veto power on proposals to be tabled for discussion of the College.

Among the 7 vice-Presidents, one enjoys the title of first Vice-President: he will be responsible for the overall coordination of the work of all the other vice-Presidents, ensuring that all legislative proposals respect the principles of better regulation and the respect of human rights. The first vice-President will therefore act as a “deputy” of the President, with a more political profile and a specific liaising role with the other European institutions; the High Representative for Foreign Affairs will also have a more decisive political role and will be asked to perform more strongly her role of vice-President of the Commission (symbolically, her Office will be housed in the Berlaymont building, where all the other Commissioners work, and not within the EEAS premises).

Each Commissioner has received a detailed nomination letter, setting the objectives and policy results that the President expects from individual Commissioners and relevant project teams. These letters also clarify the way this new «collaborative way of working» (to use the words of the Commission) should actually run, yet it will be interesting to see how in practical terms this coordination will be ensured, either within the same «project team» and between working teams. In fact, individual Commissioners (and the respective DGs) can be integrated in more than one project team, while the first vice-President and the vice-President responsible for budget and human resources have «control» over the decisions and activities of all Commissioners. On the one hand, this “architecture” represents a step forward towards more political autonomy and authority of the President, as well as towards more coherence to the activities of the Commission in those areas of horizontal nature. On the other hand, the need to find effective and reliable ways that clarify the “vertical” organization of competences of each Commissioner (and therefore the “legitimacy” of a specific vice-President rather than another one to intervene) will represent a major organisational challenge, with clear political consequences

Finally, a few remarks on the future place of social affairs in the agenda of the new Commission. In his opening statement in front of the European Parliament, Mr. Juncker stressed several times the necessity to focus on the social impacts of policies suggested in the areas of economic and financial adjustments declared himself as the President of social dialogue and recognized the centrality of the European social model and the necessity to preserve it. The designate Commissioner for Social Affairs, Ms. Marianne Thyssen from Belgium, has a long experience as MEP and a profound knowledge of the functioning of social dialogue. Yet, her activity will be put under strong supervision of two vice-Presidents (Euro and social dialogue and Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness), with room for potentially overlapping competences.