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Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission's president-elect, must pick the members of the new European Commission. But international disagreements and the issue of a women's quota are standing in his way.
European Union member states had until August 1 to nominate their candidates for the new European Commission, but five of the 28 countries missed the deadline. They had all been encouraged to pitch a female candidate.
The European Commission's president-elect, Jean-Claude Juncker, would like to see more women in the EU's executive body. Until now, nine of its 28 members have been female - a total of 33 percent - and Juncker wants his Commission to match or surpass this number.
Meanwhile, the European Union aims to achieve a female quota of 40 percent in the top management positions in the private sector by 2020. A similar ratio in the European Commission could set an example for others to follow. According to Juncker's spokeswoman, Natasha Bertaud, Juncker "is working on increasing the number."
A week ago, Bertaud stated that the formation of the new European Commission could be delayed further if not enough women were nominated. Based on the candidates named so far, it looks like Juncker can expect four, maximum six, female members: Federica Mogherini (Italy), Kristalina Georgieva (Bulgaria), Cecilia Malmström (Sweden), Vera Jourova (Czech Republic) and possibly also Connie Hedegaard (Denmark) and one female politician from Slovenia.
Strong demands for more women
These figures are too low, said Martin Schulz, the reelected president of the European Parliament. He has warned that the European Parliament would not approve of the new Commission before its official due takeover in October if the percentage of women isn't at least as high as it is now with nine female members.
Schulz, who competed with Juncker for the post of European Commission president, even promised to achieve a women's quota of 50 percent if elected. To its credit, the European Parliament can confirm that following the elections in May of this year, its number of female representatives rose to 36 percent.
The governments of the EU member states have largely ignored Juncker's pleas. According to various reports, he asked them to nominate three candidates each, at least one of them female. He then would have had a lot of flexibility in choosing the Commission members. However, at the last EU summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel denied this to be true, saying she had not heard of such a request.
Merkel has nominated Günther Oettinger, the current European Commissioner for Energy, and she isn't planning to change her mind. "He just happens to not be a woman," Merkel said.
The only country to fulfill Juncker's alleged request is Slovenia. Its government has nominated three candidates, all female, for Juncker to choose from.
Many factors to consider
Juncker now has a challenging puzzle to solve - a multi-dimensional one. Apart from the gender issue, the candidates' qualifications need to match their roles. Larger countries expect greater responsibility; smaller countries don't want to be marginalized. Eastern countries demand important roles; northern countries are against having a southern European commissioner for economic and monetary affairs.
Over the last weeks, Juncker discussed the various demands with the EU countries' governments. At this stage, not all pieces of the puzzle fit. Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi insists on installing Italy's relatively inexperienced foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, as the EU's foreign affairs and security policy chief, but Juncker is against it.
By being so forward, Renzi has violated the unwritten rule that EU member states may not publicly nominate candidates for specific roles. Some eastern European countries see Mogherini as too supportive of Russia in the Ukraine crisis. They would prefer to see Bulgaria's Kristalina Georgieva take up the post.
Juncker took a diplomatic approach to the issue in an interview with Luxembourg's "Le Quotidien" newspaper. "It needs to be understood that Italy has traditionally had a good relationship with Russia," said Juncker, pointing out the friendship between former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He also added that "the eastern and central European states are still traumatized" from the time of Soviet rule. For this reason he understands why these countries would like to see one of their own representatives as the foreign affairs head. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski is said to be a contender for the role, but his gender may work against him.
'No veto right'
Another important player is France's former finance minister, Pierre Moscovici, whom French President Francois Hollande would like to see as the new commissioner for economic and monetary affairs. This would make Moscovici responsible for overseeing the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) and could prevent France from being penalized for poor budgetary management. German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble is said to have vetoed the plan. Although Schäuble is a friend of Moscovici's, he does not approve of his demands for relaxing the SGP, an EU-wide agreement to facilitate and maintain the stability of the Economic and Monetary Union.
"Nobody has the right of veto in these matters," Juncker told "Le Quotidien." "I once again emphasize that it's the European Commission president alone that decides on the Commission's makeup, not the governments of the member states."
The Commission creation process could turn into a power struggle between the institutions: the president on one side and the European Council, European Parliament and the heads of the member states on the other. Two EU countries, the UK and Hungary, disapproved of Juncker becoming European Commission president in the first place.
The first special summit on the Commission set-up took place on July 16 and failed to result in an agreement. The obligatory hearings with the new commissioners are scheduled to begin in late September. The new European Commission is due to take up office on November 1.