Battle over top EU jobs enters next round
Appointment of commissioners will be test of political mettle
Commissionerships are still a valued commodity, as the debate over the nomination of Phil Hogan confirms, not least due to the salary and benefits. With commissioners commanding a monthly salary of €20,800 – rising to €23,100 for vice-presidents – plus pension, residence allowances and transitional payments.
Following the fractious battle over the nomination of José Manuel Barroso’s successor as European Commission president, EU leaders met in Brussels yesterday evening for the next round in the battle over the top EU jobs.
Running in counterpoint to the appointment of the top EU jobs is the allocation of EU commissioner posts. While the trio of top positions – European Commission president, European Council president and foreign policy chief – are unquestionably the EU’s most senior appointments, the distribution of commissionerships also come into play.
Commissionerships are still a valued commodity, as the debate over the nomination of Phil Hogan as Irish commissioner confirms, not least due to the generous salary and benefits. With commissioners commanding a monthly salary of €20,800 – rising to €23,100 for vice-presidents – plus pension, residence allowances and transitional payments, the salary vastly exceeds that offered by most domestic political roles, particularly in Eastern European countries.
Prestige and powerBut the prestige and power attached to the role is highly dependent on the portfolio assigned.
Since the Lisbon Treaty there has been widespread criticism that the college of commissioners has become too big and too unwieldy. The treaty’s original proposal for a slimmed-down commission was abandoned when it became clear that a commitment to ensure one commissioner for each member state would encourage Ireland to support the treaty in the second referendum.
Almost immediately the conundrum arose as to how an ever-expanding union would cater for an ever-expanding list of commissioners.
The result was the creation of a hotchpotch of overlapping portfolios such as environment and climate action, development and humanitarian aid as well as a clutch of smaller directorate-generals such as inter-institutional relations and administration.
Mr Juncker has already hinted that he may realign the current portfolios, suggesting in an interview with a German newspaper last week that a commissioner dedicated to cutting bureaucracy could be created, although an earlier idea to merge the economics portfolio with head of the euro group appears to have been abandoned.
One solution would be to create two ranks of commissioner – senior and junior. Such an arrangement would reflect what is already a reality – that much of the power lies with a handful of commissioners.
Economics, trade, internal markets and competition are the obvious heavyweights, with the commissioners of each wielding significant power in their fields. Unsurprisingly the biggest member states have launched a behind-the-scenes offensive for the top posts, with Italy eyeing the foreign affairs portfolio – now in the European External Action Services (EEAS) – and France and Britain vying for the economics or trade portfolio.
How far the allocation of portfolios is influenced by the individual is another matter. Already the surprise nomination of Lord Hill as the British commissioner has prompted speculation that Britain may not be in line for a top post, while opponents of Phil Hogan suggested last week that the appointment of a candidate such as Eamon Gilmore, a former deputy prime minister and long-standing member of the S&D group, would guarantee Ireland a better position.
Ultimately, the allocation of portfolios is the sole gift of the commission president. Phil Hogan is believed to have met Jean-Claude Juncker yesterday in Brussels before the summit.
Agriculture interestThe likelihood of Ireland securing the competition or energy portfolios is doubtful, though Mr Hogan could be in the frame for agriculture. Should Italy’s foreign minister, Federica Mogherini, fail to secure the high representative post, Italy is seen as a strong contender for agriculture, while Spain is also interested.
Most of the senior portfolios are likely to be settled this week. Current Dutch finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem is considered a favourite to succeed Olli Rehn in the economics portfolio, leaving a vacancy at the head of the euro group which could also be filled by Spain. France is also pushing economics minister Pierre Moscovici for the economics portfolio, but is meeting resistance from Germany which is wary of putting a country with a poor record of meeting EU budget deficit targets in charge of the economics brief.
Whatever the final shape of the commission, all would-be commissioners must face their respective European Parliament committees in September. At least one commissioner is likely to be rejected – Bulgaria and Italy’s original nominees were rejected by parliamentary committees in 2009 and 2004 respectively. As the 28 commissioners prepare to take over the mantle on November 1st successfully navigating these committee hearings will be their first challenge.