Jean-Claude Juncker, the president-designate of the next European Commission, is under intense time pressure as he tries to put together his college of commissioners and to assign portfolios to those nominated.
The failure of the member states to nominate women as commissioners is increasing the risk that the start-date for Juncker’s presidency will be put back from 1 November.
Juncker said after his appointment had been approved by MEPs on Tuesday (15 July) that the allocation of portfolios would be undertaken “at the beginning of August”. This was in itself a slippage from his previous goal of late July.
Officials suggest that the Commission departments will need to know the names and distribution of portfolios by mid-August at the latest so that they can coach would-be commissioners for their confirmation hearings in front of Parliamentary committees.
Those hearings are supposed to take place in the second half of September, so that the committees can make their reports, prior to a vote by the entire Parliament on the Juncker-led college in the third week of October.
Ahead of the confirmation hearings, MEPs prepare questionnaires for each commissioner, which are supposed to be submitted to the Parliament’s administration by 3 September. Their drafting requires meetings of committee chairs and the co-ordinators of the political groups on each committee. MEPs argue that they need to know the identity of commissioners-designates and their portfolios as soon as possible.
A spokesman for the Parliament said: “It would be best if Mr Juncker presented his team this month [ie July]; then we could start hearings in mid-September.” An announcement in August would delay the process by “at least two weeks”, he suggested.
The spokesman said that the Parliament was keen on having the hearings as scheduled in September “in case any hearing doesn’t go well”. MEPs do not have the power to reject individual commissioners, but have previously used the threat of withholding approval from the entire college to force the president to withdraw a name.
The theoretical start-date for the new Commission is 1 November but if the college is not approved during the week of 20-23 October, the delay would be at least three weeks. The Parliament is not scheduled to meet again in plenary until 12-13 November. José Manuel Barroso’s first administration in 2004 was delayed by Parliament’s refusal to endorse the initial line-up of commissioners. The start of the second administration in 2009-10 was delayed by the introduction of the Lisbon treaty and by difficulties over the candidate of Rumiana Jeleva, who was replaced as Bulgaria’s nominee for the Commission.
Rebecca Harms, a co-leader of the Green group in Parliament, said: “The European Parliament must be allowed to comprehensively exercise its role in scrutinising the next Commission. This implies meaningful hearings, with thorough assessment by MEPs, to ensure the plenary can make a fully informed decision. We believe that this is possible in the current timeframe and hope that Commission President Juncker will ensure it is.”
Juncker’s task has been complicated by the reluctance of member states to put forward female candidates for the Commission. Martin Schulz, the president of the Parliament, said after Juncker’s confirmation on Tuesday: “There are only three or four female candidates from member states at the moment. As things stand, the Commission as a whole would not receive the backing of the Parliament.”
By European Voice’s assessment, there are 12 commissioners who have been officially and publicly designated by their governments – and not one of them is female.
Juncker said on Tuesday. “It’s not going to be an easy job, partly because I’m still waiting for the requisite number of applications from female candidates. That’s absolutely essential.”
Juncker faces other difficulties in completing the line-up. Both Bulgaria, whose centre-left government is on its way out, and Slovenia, which has only a caretaker government following a snap election last Sunday (13 July), will struggle to propose a European commissioner who would be politically acceptable to the incoming government.
The outcome of a special European Council that began in Brussels shortly after European Voice went to press on Wednesday (16 July) may also restrict Juncker’s room for manoeuvre. Deals concluded between the member states’ leaders over the EU’s foreign-policy chief, president of the European Council, and president of the Eurogroup could oblige him to assign portfolios to particular countries.
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