One hundred days into the new term and for many seasoned hacks and professional EU watchers, it’s already becoming difficult to remember what the 'old' European commission setup was like. The profound overhaul of the college of commissioners was, according to its designer Jean-Claude Juncker, necessary because Europe desperately needed change. "Change is not just about structures and 'organigrams'; it’s about a fundamental change to how we do business. Europe needs change, but we will not deliver it if we continue to work separately in silos; each focused on their own niche issues and fortresses."
The new European commission is fundamentally a group effort, argues the commission president. "We succeed or fail as a team. Only by working together can we enjoy and ensure success and deliver for Europe and Europeans." At the heart to the new setup are the vice-presidency positions, the so-called super commissioners. Although the college has had vice-presidents for some time, Juncker says he wanted to boost these positions, "to give them a real role", with each responsible for particular priorities. "This change in structure has a clear purpose. Form follows function - as I believe the architects say. This structure allows us to focus on major priority projects: like ensuring an energy union, delivering a digital single market, or ensuring investment in Europe’s future." And, he adds, "the vice-presidents, like the rest of this commission, are experienced and committed. They will plan and organise; mobilise and lead and are well equipped to take on this task."
"We succeed or fail as a team. Only by working together can we enjoy and ensure success [and] deliver for Europe and Europeans"
For Juncker, last May’s European parliament elections, which propelled the former Luxembourg prime minister into the EU’s top role, also delivered an unequivocal warning to the Brussels establishment. "The European elections last year sent a strong message. The people of Europe have paid a heavy price; they face joblessness, uncertainty, even fear. Yet if Europeans have distanced themselves from the union - it is also because the union has distanced itself from them. The ties of trust have been cut. We need to repair them."
He reiterates that he was elected with a clear set of promises and a clear programme for change and wants people to be in no doubt that he intends to fulfil those promises. "I have set out very clearly the issues to focus on - and I will keep that focus. That is my promise to every European", he vows, adding, "for the 25 million out of work; for those who worry that their gas might be cut off this winter; for those who see investment falling off a cliff - and their local schools, hospitals, roads and railways falling into disrepair as a result; for those who pay their fair share of tax but worry that others aren’t and for those fed up with high mobile roaming charges, even within our single market, we can make a difference for all those people and show them what Europe can do for them."
"The commission is not a group of bureaucrats: its members are experienced politicians - heavyweights - and that is how they will act"
But for some perhaps, it's too late to repair ties. A British divorce from Europe is still a real possibility, yet despite David Cameron’s ill-advised attempts to block Juncker’s appointment, the commission president is sympathetic to London’s EU anxieties and has stressed that he believes that the UK’s place is within the EU. "The union is stronger with Britain in it and Britain is stronger within the EU. The UK has political concerns. I hear and understand those concerns - and this should not come as a surprise to anyone. Indeed, I put this issue as one of my five top priorities when I campaigned across Europe. Because I want to listen to these concerns, deal with them, and find solutions."
There are also 'ties of trust' much closer to Juncker's new Berlaymont home that needed repairing. His relationship with the European parliament has gotten off to a bit of a turbulent start, yet the support of MEPs, both politically and institutionally in ensuring the success of programmes such as his flagship €315bn investment plan is seen as critical. "Before my election", he says, “I made a political contract with the parliament and I intend to keep it. That contract is focused on delivering concrete results in ten policy areas; a Europe that is bigger and more ambitious on the big things, and smaller and more modest on small things."
That is the basis on which the parliament supported and voted for him he argues. "Of course the parliament will express and act on its own views: but we too, are our own institution, led by political players, and defending our prerogatives. I have been clear we are not the European parliament’s secretariat, or valet. But as the two community institutions par excellence, I see much that we share, and lots that we can do together, as the advocates, as the artisans and as the architects of a rediscovered community method."
In areas like his investment plan, he understands and accepts that MEP support will be crucial. "I am calling on the parliament, alongside the council, to get the European investment fund up and running by June so that money can start flowing, creating new infrastructure and fertilising our economy." So despite the current hesitation, he believes that most MEPs would like to see that too. "This is not about the parliament doing a favour for the commission - it is about the parliament doing a favour for Europe, its economy and its citizens."
"The parliament will express and act on its own views: but we too, are our own institution, led by political players"
100 days in and perhaps he regrets his wish for a 'return to politics' for team Juncker? Not so he argues. "I have always said: the commission is a political body. I want it to be political. And it is. The commission is not a group of bureaucrats: its members are experienced politicians - heavyweights - and that is how they will act." Being political is a good thing he explains, because politics means making a difference to the lives of people and making an impact where it matters most. "Finding those important issues, focusing on them and fixing them is why I have set out very clear priorities for the next year, in my political guidelines and our work programme."
'Being political' is also about investment for the years and generations ahead, he adds. "It’s about making the most of our single market - with an energy union, a digital single market, a capital markets union, (and in a nod to the recent Lux leaks revelations), in ensuring a fairer deal on taxation - with taxes paid where profits are made."
And in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, being political is also about a European security agenda, "allowing us to act after the terrible events seen in recent weeks not with haste or passion, but being considered and collected, guided by reflection and not fear. That is my promise - that is what I intend to deliver."