After the confirmation of the appointment of former Luxembourg Prime Minister and Eurogroup Chairman Jean-Claude Juncker as the new European Commission President in July, the seasoned politician today made public his 27-strong team of Commissioners. An early configuration of the incoming Commission had been leaked to the press last week, somewhat to the (off-the-record) dismay of the British Government which seemed to have been overlooked for the key economic portfolios. Eventually the little-known Lord Hill of Oareford was awarded the Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union portfolio, something which can undoubtedly be seen as a positive outcome for David Cameron given how he had opposed Juncker’s candidature following the European elections. While Jonathan Hill was widely considered an underwhelming choice as a Commissioner, it is clear that the prominence of Britain’s financial sector was taken into account, in a move which could also be seen as the start of the EU Commission’s own “Better Together” campaign ahead of a possible in-out referendum.
Lord Hill’s portfolio is likely to be overseen by former Finnish Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, who was awarded the post of Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and who will co-ordinate the most important project team of the new Commission, the one dealing with economic affairs, employment, the internal market and the financial sector. That of the so-called ‘project teams’ is a new feature introduced by Juncker, which seems to be related to the idea of ‘clusters’ of Commissioners that had been already floated during the summer. Cameron had reportedly pushed for Lord Hill to oversee the cluster which has ultimately been awarded to Katainen, but this had been dismissed early on by Juncker. Admittedly, the idea of the UK Commissioner being in charge of such an important cluster was far-fetched considering that Lord Hill is not exactly a political heavyweight.
Indeed, the importance given by Juncker to the CVs of his Commissioners is clear when looking at the college of Vice-Presidents who will be co-ordinating the new Commission’s ‘project teams’. Former Prime Ministers such as Finland’s Katainen, Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis (The Euro & Social Dialogue), Slovenia’s Alenka Bratušek (Energy Union) and Estonia’s Andrus Ansip (Digital Single Market) are joined by former Dutch Foreign Affairs Minister Frans Timmermans (Better Regulation). The college is completed by former Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Federica Mogherini as High Representative for Foreign Policy, who was imposed by Italian PM Matteo Renzi following his astounding victory in the May election, and by Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva who is highly regarded for her work as International Cooperation Commissioner under Jose Manuel Barroso.
Now that the horse-trading is (almost) finished, pending the European Parliament’s confirmation of the entire Commission, it will have to be seen how the choices made during the summer will translate in terms of political momentum and policy decisions. While the vulnerable state of many European economies and the lack of growth in the Eurozone are likely to continue being the focus of the Commission’s initiatives, other areas will also be very prominent over the next few years. One is undoubtedly that of foreign affairs with the on-going crises in the Middle East and in Ukraine, where Mogherini will have to demonstrate she is a more effective High Representative than Baroness Ashton was. Another area which will be worth closely following is that of the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), where Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström should act as Europe’s chief negotiator in a deal which aims to remove trade barriers for a wide range of sectors so as to make it easier to buy and sell goods and services between the EU and the US.