Vetting Juncker’s new Commission

Putting together the next Commission isn’t as vital as you might think. After all, Commissioners don’t make EU laws — they only provide the first drafts, for elected governments and MEPs to debate and decide. But there’s still been a fair bit of fuss among the Brussels media (and predictably almost none in Britain) about a supposed leak of Jean-Claude Juncker’s ideas for the new European Commission, allocating areas of responsibility to each country’s nominee.

For once, the British media are probably right to take no notice — not because the make-up of the next European Commission isn’t important (it is), but because the leak looks decidedly unreliable, full of surprises, oddities and strange overlaps. If the document is genuine at all, it looks much more like a work in progress than a serious proposal.

In any case, even when Mr Juncker does produce an initial distribution of portfolios, the really interesting question is what happens next.

As a quick reminder of how it works:

  1. Each elected government nominates one candidate to join the 28-strong European Commission, the team responsible for drafting EU rules.
  2. The President-elect, Jean-Claude Juncker, allocates an area of responsibility to each candidate (energy, internal market, environment, what-have-you) and then sends his proposal to MEPs in the European Parliament.
  3. MEPs cross-examine each candidate in a series of parliamentary hearings, and then decide whether to approve the proposed configuration or reject it. If we reject it, Mr Juncker goes back to the drawing-board. Depending on the nature of our objections, this could mean redistributing portfolios, securing extra commitments on areas of concern, or even asking one or more countries to rethink its choice of candidate.

The first step is now complete, with Romania being the final country to put forward a candidate for Mr Juncker’s team. All eyes are now on him to see what kind of proposal he comes up with.

And Parliament’s approval is by no means a formality. In past years, Commissioner-designate hearings have been rigorous affairs — and in both 2004 and 2009, when MEPs raised objections to particular candidates or portfolios, previous Commission presidents have been quick to make the appropriate changes for fear of losing the parliamentary vote. (You can see the details of former hearings on Parliament’s website.)

This time around, an early concern raised by MEPs is the gender balance of the Commission — promising to reject any proposal in which less than a third of the team were women. It looks like Juncker will just (but only just!) clear that hurdle.

But there’s sure to be a robust exchange of views on many other issues. Labour MEPs will be looking for a recognition of some of our important priorities in Europe: simplifying our common rules for the common market, eliminating red tape while maintaining a level playing field for consumers and businesses, tackling unemployment (especially youth unemployment), standing up against vested interests, and making the case for positive reform so the EU can continue to benefit Britain and our neighbouring countries.

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