He may moonlight as an internet celebrity – often sharing his favourite song of the moment and photos of his travels – but Frans Timmermans, is in fact, European commission first vice-president for better regulation, interinstitutional relations, rule of law and charter of fundamental rights. He is certainly one of the most popular commissioners, having amassed over 200,000 'likes' on his Facebook page, compared to Juncker's 33,000.
"Sometimes we need to get out of Brussels to understand what citizens really care about. Getting their opinion will help me fulfil the better regulation part of my role"
Timmermans is dedicated to delivering tangible results, explaining, "in the elections we heard people across the union tell us they want change. They want Europe to act where it makes a difference. They want it to improve their lives. To focus on the big things that matter – jobs, growth and fairness in our societies. This will be the underlying message of this commission, and will define our decision-making. There is another very important benchmark for me. We have lost the support of small businesses for the European project. My goal during this commission term is to restore their support. If we can get them to see that Europe is working for them, they will start hiring more people, we will get more growth, and we will restore faith in the effectiveness of the EU, which in my opinion is vital for Europe's future."
As the European lead on fundamental rights, the Dutch official must tackle issues dealing with one right in particular – freedom of movement. Recently it has been at the heart of political discussions, with some calling for a reform of the Schengen zone. In Timmerman's view, "free movement is a cornerstone of the EU and the single market and it will always remain so. It is also worth recalling that the principle of freedom of movement is about freedom to work but has never been a principle of free access to social benefits, as the court of justice has recently confirmed. Tackling abuse is essential, otherwise there is a risk that the principle of free movement and the huge benefits it brings will come increasingly under fire. These concerns exist not just in one member state, but also in many member states. We need an open discussion about this, based on facts. It is important to remember, too, that the way countries organise their social security systems is up to them, and not up to the EU." Timmermans' is a hefty portfolio, no doubt, and he promises, "I will work with all commissioners – we will not have 28 separate agendas, with officials operating in their own corner. We are working together, pooling expertise and energy, and making sure we deliver policies that match our priorities. This will allow us to concentrate on what citizens expect from us". He also underlines that, "to succeed, the parliament's support will be key. I welcome the constructive exchanges I have had with MEPs during these first months of the mandate. Of course everyone in both the council and parliament tells us that they want Europe to be less bureaucratic and cut red tape, but sometimes when you get into more concrete matters people react by saying, 'don't cut my red tape'. This can be true also within the commission. So we need to work together in a joint effort for better regulation."
"The principle of freedom of movement is about freedom to work, but has never been a principle of free access to social benefits, as the court of justice has recently confirmed"
Juncker's second in command has high hopes for his term, saying, "I want to use this role to strengthen the union by improving its democratic legitimacy, by having political rather than technical discussions with my colleagues. I will also use my position to reach out directly to citizens. I have already taken part in several public debates in member states, and I have enjoyed talking to trade unions, business leaders, citizens and religious groups across Europe.
Sometimes we need to get out of Brussels to understand what citizens really care about. Getting their opinion will help me fulfil the better regulation part of my role. It will help me to understand what Europeans really want us to do, not what people in the 'Brussels bubble' think they want. Respect for the rule of law is fundamental to everything we do. It is a precondition for defending our values and preserving our diverse and rich cultures. We saw people on the Maidan square waving European flags and we need to understand what that means. It isn't a love for our Brussels institutions, what they want is the free, secure, and fair society that our EU institutions help to protect. That is why the rule of law is so important. We must defend and preserve it."
Frans Timmermans is European commission first vice-president for better regulation, interinstitutional relations, rule of law and charter of fundamental rights