The New European Commission – Transformation or Conversion?

The European elections have brought forth important systemic innovation regarding the functioning of the Union’s political system. However, those who hope that these new structures will quickly translate into political action might ultimately be disappointed. By Teodor Kalpakchiev

3337072853_4da4f7fc48_zIn the aftermath of the last European Elections we witnessed a remarkable change in the EU’s intra-institutional workings that has been contrived through an extensive interpretation of the Treaties. The transnationally conjoined political families decided that they can send a stronger message to the citizens, if they are able to present candidates for a Head of the new European Commission. This pilot arrangement, by which the major factions of the European Parliament agreed to support the candidate with the largest share of the popular vote and to work together toward actually making that candidate the head of the Commission, also fostered a development of the European polity: While it might not have been entirely clear to many European citizens what was at stake at this year’s election, the next time around they will go to the polls knowing that they actually can elect the Commission President.
Due to opposition towards this democratization of the process, mainly from Britain, the negotiations on the thew Brussels appointments and distribution of posts took longer than many expected. Federalist however where prepared and quickly launched a series of campaigns such as #RespectMyVote, and once the media picked up the issue in all seriousness to remind European heads of state of the commitments they had made, and the expectations they had raised by presenting frontrunners in the first place, Juncker finally was confirmed, and with him the procedure that had carried him into office. This development is highly important, as it enables the constituents of the European democracy not only to position their national candidates for the European Parliament in the political spectrum and to envisage the advancement of their priorities, but also to align their preference towards one of the alternating visions for the Commission. However,  apart from the procedural innovation its implications might at first not be as far-reaching as some will surely expect.

Rotation and the chances of “a leap forward”

8102160136_850d5f155a_z-1With the new Lisbon Treaty coming into force the Commission expanded its monopoly over legislative initiative in 68 areas. However, there are still several issues standing in the way of the Commission working efficiently and effectively. The new rotation system established by the Treaty of Lisbon will incorporate only two-thirds of the member states at a time.
In the current state of affairs and a growing number of problems, cutting-down of portfolios seems, however, hardly likely as the Council can still delay the rotation from coming into effect. Even though the exclusion of any member state from the decision making process is made near impossible as “the total number of terms of office held by nationals of any given pair of member states may never be more than one” (244 TFEU), it remains plausible to expect that there will be opposition from Heads of State against even their temporary exclusion.

Undoubtedly areas such as energy diversification and border security, youth unemployment and euroscepticism might face a different approach, would there be an incomplete collegium in the Commission. Hence the egalitarian attempt for mitigating the bureaucratic burden might result in addressing fewer policy needs than are actually present. The historical perspective has furthermore proven that the advancement of the Union depends entirely on clearly defined goals and benchmarks. With the additional fragmentation of the college, the complex intergovernmental bargaining that guides the distribution of portfolios, and the lack of hierarchy in the posts, the chances to set such an unilateral goal are already diminishing. This development negatively affects the normative potentiality and chances of a real leap forward. Juncker’s weak Political Guidelines only confirm this development.

The need for a “communal approach”

There is growing necessity for a communal approach towards a number of areas. A most pressing example is the imperative adjustment of energy prices against their subordination to power play through Foreign Policy, as well as a regulatory convergence of banking oversight and its effective separation from monetary policy. Undoubtedly, whilst the desideratum of the Foreign Policy apparatus of the Union is to create market perceptions in its behalf, the same continue to jeopardize the capital markets with disintegration. At same time aspirations to foster growth through adjustments of lending volumes might pose a moral hazard to the monetary targets of the European Central Bank, as both banking supervision and monetary policy are currently contrived there.
By borrowing conceptual undertakings from social democrats, the new Commission only confirmed that arrangements between party elites only make alternative choices void. The capital markets union paradigm and the avoidance of wage dumping are perfect examples of how the new appointment of the Commission president might hardly matter.
There is a historical chance at hand – to set out the developments for a consolidation of the Common Foreign and Security Policy, fostering energy and sustainability as well as blending the experience of an enduring practitioner and the economically stiff and financially lateral Union. Whether this Commission is going to take that chance remains to be seen.


The image “Zahnrad. / Gear.” courtesy of Stefan W via, released under creative commons.

The image “ EU Summit – Friendly exchange between Schulz and Jean-Claude Juncker, PM of Luxembourgl” courtesy of European Parliament via, released under creative commons.

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