Juncker′s commissioner selections in overview | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 10.09.2014
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Europe

Juncker's commissioner selections in overview

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has presented his new team. Some decisions have surprised observers, and some selections have already been met with heavy criticsm.

Only the EU Commission president decides who gets which job within the body. The individual EU member states - no matter how powerful they are - can't claim jobs for their respective candidates.

Another thing tends to be forgotten: as soon as the commissioners take office, they no longer have a primary responsibility towards their countries of origin, but towards the entire European Union. Governments can't use "their man" or "their woman" as a long arm in Brussels, pushing through their ideas in all of Europe. Governments who have tried to do so in the past have often had to acknowledge that their former allies now act independently in Brussels and that they don't feel bound by loyalty towards their sending countries any more.

Fears of the French

Schäuble, pictured next to Moscovici

Germany's finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble (l.) gets on with Pierre Moscovici personally, but he opposes him politically

And yet, governments still try to exert pressure on the Commission president, so that they get important positions - or they try to block other candidates. Some German politicians were appalled when rumors emerged that a former French finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, could become commissioner for currency affairs, with a big influence on European financial and budgetary politics.

In Berlin and elsewhere, many seem to believe that any candidate from France, an economically ailing country, was disqualified from the very start. And now, Moscovici will even oversee an extended key portfolio, combining economic, currency and taxation affairs.

Concessions to Britain

Juncker did, however, exclude the field of financial services, giving it to Jonathan Hill from Britain. That was very much in the interest of British politicians. London's financial center is sacrosanct to them. There can be no doubt that the British government would have been up in arms if a candidate with restrictive and interventionist views regarding banking had been awarded the post.

Choosing Hill is likely best seen as an attempt by Juncker to keep the Brits from leaving the EU. The portfolios given to Jyrki Katainen from Finland and Valdis Dombrovskis from Latvia also have to be seen as a counterweight to Moscovici. The former Finnish prime minister has represented an economically rock-solid northern EU country so far. He will take charge of the vast field of jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness. Dombrovskis is in charge of the common currency, the euro. In addition, Moscovici will be a "mere" commissioner, while Katainen and Dombrovskis will be made vice presidents, ranking higher than their French colleague.

A polyglot Swede in charge of trade

London skyline

A British commissioner will oversee the EU's banking regulation in future

Competition is one of the most important portfolios. The commissioner is in charge of making sure that the single market works and has the role of the EU's supreme anti-cartel authority. Incumbent Commissioner Joaquin Almunia repeatedly imposed high cartel fines and took on economic giants like Google. Margrethe Vestager from Denmark is his successor.

As far as the EU's foreign trade is concerned, Cecilia Malmström from Sweden got the most important job. The incumbent domestic affairs commissioner will now be in charge of negotiations on the planned free trade agreement, TTIP, with the US - among other tasks. She will be able to put her language skills to good use again: apart from Swedish, Malmström speaks English, French and Spanish fluently, and has good knowledge of German and Italian, making her probably the most polyglot member of the current commission.

It had been known for a while that Federica Mogherini from Italy would be the EU's next foreign affairs chief. The decision was met with criticism by some who say she lacked experience and was not suitable as Europe's voice in the world.

Oettinger gets a boss

The German government had re-nominated the current energy commissioner, Günther Oettinger. However, he will now be in charge of the digital economy portfolio, but above him is going to be a vice president, Andrus Ansip from Estonia. Some leading European politicians view that shift as an act of degradation for Oettinger.

Overall, the Commission's entire structure has not just been re-designed, but also become more hierarchical. Seven vice presidents with larger responsibilities will coordinate the work of the specialized commissioners. They, in turn, will rank lower than Juncker's "right hand," Frans Timmermans from the Netherlands. This structure, the Commission President hopes, will allow for a more effective functioning of the institution.

Running the gauntlet in parliament

The Angry Birds game shown on a cell phone

Günther Oettinger will switch jobs - from energy to digital economy

That makes the Commission complete in numbers. But every single commissioner will have to answer questions by the respective members of the European Parliament's specialized committees in a hearing that can last hours, where the commissioner's competence and integrity are put to the test.

Pierre Moscovici from France, for one, will face tough questions. Herbert Reul, the chairman of the Parliament's CDU/CSU group, speaks of an imminent tough test because "[Moscovici] co-designed France's current debt policy."

If members of the parliament have serious objections against any future commissioner, they can only reject the entire Commission. In 2004 and 2009, the parliament only had to threaten to turn down the Commission, and the commissioners who were the subject of complaint were replaced.

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