EU parliament leaders give verdict on Juncker commission

The European parliament's political group leaders have offered up a predictably mixed response to the announcement of Jean-Claude Juncker's new commission portfolios.

By Des Hinton-Beales

10 Sep 2014

Get exclusive biographies of all the commission nominees with their allocated portfolios here...

 

In good hands

EPP group leader Manfred Weber praised Juncker's appointments, calling his announcement a "good proposal" that had created an EU executive that is "clearly oriented towards reforms, jobs and growth".

The German MEP, who shares the same political grouping as Juncker, said the proposed new commission's structure and organisation would be "more political and more efficient to meet the challenges ahead".

"With this high-level team, Europe will be in good hands" - Manfred Weber

"With this high-level team, Europe will be in good hands. The new commissioners are experienced politicians, not bureaucrats. The European commission will focus on what is most important and reduce bureaucracy and red tape. This is what our voters expect from us."

Weber also expressed his satisfaction with the number of important dossiers assigned to EPP nominees, saying that, "the EPP political family is at the core of the European commission's agenda of reforms towards growth and jobs".

"We will do everything to avoid any delay in the entry-into-function of the new commission. The European institutions need to get back to work and start delivering," he concluded.

Want to know more? Read Manfred Weber's contribution to our La rentrée feature here...

 

A new phase

Gianni Pittella, chair of parliament's S&D group, said, "This is a balanced new commission that will hopefully open up a new phase for the commission, with an innovative structure and new development plans to overcome the crisis."

The Italian deputy, however, sounded a note of caution, saying "the S&D group is worried about the financial services and education and culture portfolios".

He was also concerned over the allocation of portfolios, highlighting that the number given to Socialist nominees "does not reflect the political weight of the groups within parliament", but did concede that they have been "given responsibility for some very strategic and challenging issues".

"Financial services is too important and sensitive a job to be given to a conservative with a liberal, free-market approach" - Gianni Pittella

"We have the guarantee that this commission will be guided by a strong social-democrat influence thanks to the appointment of important commissioners such as Corina Creţu, Maroš Šefčovič, Neven Mimica, Karmenu Vella and Vytenis Andriukaitis."
 
For Pittella, "The appointment of Pierre Moscovici is a clear indication that Europe has turned the page of austerity."
 
However, he was less pleased with the nomination of UK peer Jonathan Hill, saying, "Financial services is too important and sensitive a job to be given to a conservative with a liberal, free-market approach.

"The financial sector urgently needs better regulation and we will not accept any backward step on this issue. It's a matter of principle. We promise to be very tough with lord Hill."

Want to know more? Read Gianni Pittella's contribution to our La rentrée feature here...

 

An open mind

Syed Kamall, who heads the parliament's ECR grouping, said he welcomed "the fact that the priorities for the commission vice-presidents are broadly aimed at economic reform".

The ECR will now engage in a constructive manner with all of the commissioners-designate in the run-up to the European parliament's vote" - Syed Kamall

Kamall, whose political grouping has the only commission-designate from outside of the EPP, S&D and ALDE, pledged to "work with [the vice-presidents] where the reform agenda is pursued in the day-to-day work the commission undertakes".

He called for the new commission to "focus on the areas where the EU can add value, and scale back on those areas that should be handled at a more local level", adding that, "The ECR will now engage in a constructive manner with all of the commissioners-designate in the run-up to the European parliament's vote."

"We will keep an open mind going into these hearings and press each commissioner-designate on their ideas and ability to bring reforms that tackle the challenges of the future," he concluded.

Want to know more? Read Syed Kamall's contribution to our La rentrée feature here...

 

A break away commission?

ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt pointed to the key roles set to be played by Liberal commissioners, saying, "Our candidates will be in charge of key priorities: trade, competition, justice and the creation of an energy union and a digital union. Two vice-presidents are liberals."

"This new commission has the potential to break away from the guardianship of the [European] council" - Guy Verhofstadt

The Belgian ex-prime minister also underlined his belief that, "This new commission has the potential to break away from the guardianship of the [European] council. We count on Juncker to show such leadership."

"What will play a crucial role in our assessment will be the commissioners designates’ commitment to our democratic values, the rule of law and which direction Europe should take," concluded Verhofstadt.

Want to know more? Read Guy Verhofstadt's contribution to our La rentrée feature here...

 

A radical change of direction

GUE/NGL group chair Gabi Zimmer offered some of the most damning condemnation of Juncker's proposed new college, saying it must radically change direction if it is to fight unemployment and poverty and restore citizens' confidence in the EU.

"Why is there no 'super commissioner' for the necessary dual task of economic growth and social and ecological minimum standards in order to reduce unemployment and poverty?", asked the German deputy.

She also said that her group held reservations over several of the nominees, saying it was "questionable whether [Günther] Oettinger, the commissioner-designate for digital economy and society, will really act in the interests of citizens".

"Why is there no 'super Commissioner' for the necessary dual task of economic growth and social and ecological minimum standards in order to reduce unemployment and poverty?" - Gabi Zimmer

Zimmer pointed to Oettinger's "track record as energy commissioner, where he particularly represented the interests of energy companies on issues such as energy poverty". She then outlined her group's concerns over energy and climate change portfolio nominee Miguel Canete, and agriculture nominee Phil Hogan.

She also issued two major demands on behalf of her group: the replacement of the troika system with a "social union that prioritises tackling youth unemployment and sustainable investment in infrastructure for job creation"; and transparency in the negotiations between the EU and US on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership.

Want to know more? Read Gabi Zimmer's contribution to our La rentrée feature here...

 

A lack of clarity

Greens/EFA group co-presidents Rebecca Harms and Philippe Lamberts also offered a less positive perspective, citing concerns over a "lack of clarity" in the policy divisions and appointments, including the merging of the energy and climate change portfolios.

They feared that the merger constituted "a further downgrading of the EU's commitment to climate action at a crucial juncture. The same is true of the proposal to merge the fisheries and environment portfolios: this cannot lead to a dilution of the EU's commitment to either of these key areas."

"This poacher-turned-gamekeeper approach is clearly not what is needed in the sensitive area of financial services and it is a provocation to put [Jonathan Hill] in charge of the EU's banking union" - Rebecca Harms and Philippe Lamberts

They also raised "doubts about the suitability of Tibor Navracsics as commissioner in charge of citizenship", going so far as to says the move "seems to be a provocation", and called the decision to appoint UK nominee John Hill to the financial services and banking union brief a case of party interests being considered "more important than competence".

"This poacher-turned-gamekeeper approach is clearly not what is needed in the sensitive area of financial services and it is a provocation to put him in charge of the EU's banking union."

In light of their disapproval over certain nominees, Lamberts and Harms urged MEPs to "not be afraid to say no to problematic or inappropriate candidates" when the parliament holds its commission approval hearings.

Want to know more? Read Philippe Lamberts' contribution to our La rentrée feature here...

 

A coup for Juncker

"It is vital to note that lord Hill will not be acting in the interests of the British government or the British people; he will be making a solemn pledge to act in the interests of the European Union" - Nigel Farage

Sharing the Greens negative outlook on the nomination of Hill for the financial services, but for differing reasons, EFDD group co-chair Nigel Farage dubbed the move "a coup for Juncker".

Farage said Hill would essentially be an "Englishman to be hangman for the British financial industry", with the Ukip deputy also critical of what he called the transfer of "control of Britain's financial services industry, our biggest industry to the European Union in 2010".

"That process has now been completed by the appointment of a British commissioner to make sure that everything is done on an EU level. It is vital to note that lord Hill will not be acting in the interests of the British government or the British people; he will be making a solemn pledge to act in the interests of the European Union," he concluded.

Want to know more? Read Nigel Farage's contribution to our La rentrée feature here...

 

In the balance?

Some of parliament's group leaders also raised concerns over the gender balance of Juncker's new commission - the Luxembourgish official had issued a campaign pledge to at least match the number of women commissioners as on his predecessor José Manuel Barroso's team.

Pittella, who had repeatedly urged member states to put forward female candidates in the build up to the nominations, said, "As for gender balance, Juncker just about got there. We would have preferred to have more women in the new commission team."

The S&D grouping, however, only have two female nominees out of their eight total commissioners-designate, compared to three out of 14 for the EPP.

Verhofstadt was "disappointed" with the new commission team featuring only nine women out of the total 28 appointees, stressing, "Four out of five liberal nominees are women, but the conservative and socialist families have failed to match this.

"Clearly, they do not practise what they preach on gender equality," he added.

Harms and Lamberts shared their ALDE colleague's concerns, saying, "The fact there are only nine female commissioners is a major source of disappointment and will mean that, despite championing gender equality across Europe, the EU commission itself will make no progress from its past term.

"Our group will work to ensure rules are put in place so that, in the future, governments will be obliged to propose a male and a female candidate for the European commission."

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