EU Affairs

[Update] Team Lineup in Brussels – Ursula von der Leyen Presents New Commission

“Nothing is decided until everything is decided”, is a common motto in European Brussels. The new Commission is already casting its shadows, even if the handover of the Commission baton will not officially take place until the end of October. That is how long the old EU Commission under Jean-Claude Juncker will remain in office. Nevertheless, the new team is already in the starting blocks, led by the designated Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Will she be able to keep her promise of parity and who was nominated by Europe’s Liberals?


What is Certain so Far

On 10th September Ursula von der Leyen will officially present her new cabinet as well as the designated policy areas, so-called “portfolios”. Previously, almost all EU member states – with the exception of the UK – had nominated a candidate. After the names of the 27 Commissioner candidates are set, through their nomination by the Council, they can calculate their chances of participating in the new Commission team.

Half of the Commission should be female, von der Leyen had ambitiously declared during her inaugural speech in the European Parliament in July. In practice, however, the project proved to be more difficult than expected. Contrary to the requirements, only eleven Member States nominated a female candidate, and only Romania complied with the request for a double parity report.

Among them are six candidates from the liberal “Renew Europe” group, including some well-known Brussels personalities. Statistically speaking, the weight of European liberals in the new Commission will increase slightly by around 21 percent compared to the previous mandate, and can grow even further with regard to the allocation of important portfolios and the number of Commission vice-presidents.


Old and New Faces Among the Liberals

The best-known liberal candidate is undoubtedly Margrethe Vestager, former Danish Competition Commissioner and one of the leading European Liberal candidates in the European election campaign. Over the past five years she took up the fight against international conglomerates and was particularly feared by companies such as Google, Apple, and Facebook. The recent merger of Siemens and Alstom, which was prevented by European competition authorities, caused a sensation in Germany and France. Vestager, who was initially left empty-handed in the negotiations for European top posts in July, will from now on assume a dual role as Executive Vice President and will hold the prestigious digitalisation and competition portfolios.

Also nominated for a second mandate is her Czech counterpart Vĕra Jourová, currently responsible for the policy areas of justice, consumer protection and equality. A proven commissioner and founding member of the Czech ANO party. Nevertheless, unlike Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, she belongs to the liberal wing and is uncontroversial about the party’s borders. In this role, she recently warned the Czech government to further prevent the candidacy of former Romanian anti-corruption commissioner Laura Codruta Kövesi as EU Attorney General. According to media reports, von der Leyen originally offered her the departments of the rule of law and democracy, which experts saw as a sign to the Visegrád states (V4) and in particular to the Czech leadership. Ultimately, Jourová will be the only Commission Vice-President from the V4 to be responsible for values and transparency.


Liberal, but by no means political, newcomers, come from France, Estonia, Belgium and Slovenia.

France nominated Sylvie Goulard of the French Centre Party Mouvement Démocrate for the prestigious European office. The former MEP, a convinced federalist who co-founded the cross-party Spinelli Group in the European Parliament, is one of the Franco-German experts at home. Goulard, the short-term Defence Minister and until recently Deputy Governor of the Banque de France, will be Commissioner for the Internal Market. Her portfolio has been significantly upgraded and expanded, since Goulard will report to the newly created Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space. This personnel decision should be welcomed with particular pleasure in Paris, Madrid and Berlin, where the three EU states signed a framework agreement last June to set up a Future Combat Air System (FCAS).

With Vestager and Goulard, von der Leyen would follow her plan not only to increase the quota of women, but above all to entrust them with economic and key portfolios. With 13 women, including von der Leyen herself, and 14 men, at least the parity target can, with a little goodwill, be considered fulfilled.

The Belgian candidate Didier Reynders has made a name for himself in the past, as long-standing Minister of Finance, Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, both nationally and internationally, as well as Chairman of the French-speaking Liberal Mouvement Réformateur. In Belgium, which is sometimes considered difficult to govern, he was commissioned by King Albert II in 2008 to conduct exploratory talks and is considered a mediator. In this role, Reynders will henceforth be responsible for justice and the rule of law, where mediation skills between the EU and individual country groups such as the V4 may continue to be necessary.

With Kadri Simson, Estonia would again be sending a liberal to Brussels. Little is currently known beyonond his country’s borders about the former parliamentary leader of the Estonian Centre Party in parliament and, until recently, Minister of Economic Affairs. The new Energy Commissioner, however, is appreciated by experts as a competent and loyal politician.

The last candidate is independent Slovenian Janez Lenarčič, who is supported by Renew Europe. Among other things, the experienced diplomat and multiple State Secretary prepared the Slovenian Council Presidency in 2008, advised the Slovenian Foreign and Prime Ministers and headed the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in Warsaw. Lenarčič is one of two politically independent candidates of the new Commission and new Commissioner for Crisis Management and Humanitarian Aid.


How the Personnell Puzzle will Continue

Before officially taking office on 1 November, all candidates will have to pass the hurdle of a multihour hearing in the European Parliament at the end of September. This test is more than just a formality, because MEPs will not hesitate to reject some candidates this time either.

Beyond personnel decisions, two developments are particularly interesting: Von der Leyen took over the office of Vice President, first introduced by her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker, and even slightly increased the number to eight. In addition, she awarded premium status to three of them as Executive Vice Presidents. In comparison to the previous Commission, a more policy- and solution, rather than hierarchical and Directorate General, oriented distribution of departments was also observed.

Such tricky personnel tables call for disputes over personnel, portfolio and agenda decisions, the defusing of which will be the next test for the new Commission President.


*Note: The independent Slovenian candidate Janez Lenarčič, supported by Renew Europe, was not included.


Carmen Descamps

European Affairs Manager