Special Event – The new European Commission: a renewed setting for a fresh start?

Speakers: Telička Pavel, Lauristin Marju, Rosati Dariusz
Moderator: Cendrowicz Leo

On Tuesday the 18th of November, at the premises of Science14 Atrium in Brussels, PubAffairs Bruxelles hosted a debate concerning the renewed structure and the challenges of the new European Commission. The debate was moderated by Leo Cendrowicz, longtime Brussels journalist and former correspondent with TIME magazine, while the discussants were Mr Pavel Telička MEP, vice-President of the ALDE Group, Mrs Marju Lauristin MEP, vice-President of the S&D Group, and Mr Dariusz Rosati MEP, Member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, EPP Group.

In the first part of the debate, Leo Cendrowicz introduced the speakers, as well as the main topics which the debate would touch upon. He then gave the floor to the discussants who could proceed to give their preliminary statements and to informally discuss the issues at stake.

Mr Rosati started his speech by stating that he has confidence in Jean Claude Juncker, as well as the other members of the European Commission. He added that the main European political parties have discussed within and among themselves for some time in order to appoint the appropriate candidates and Mr Juncker was nominated President in consideration of both his previous experiences and personal qualities. While in this very period the political debate is concentrated on Mr Juncker’s capacity to deliver his plan of action, he considered that it is legitimate to scrutinise also the possible limitations of the new Commission. With regard to this last issue, Mr Rosati reminded that the EU executive body shares its powers with member states. As a result, if Mr Juncker is able to strengthen the cooperation between the Commission and national governments, Europeans may have some reason to be optimistic about the future of the EU.

Mrs Lauristin took the floor by premising that, as a vice-President of the S&D, she has participated in several debates where austerity measures were considered as one of the primary causes of several member states’ malaise. As a result, she believes that the question of the EU capacity to recover from the economic downturn will greatly shape both the EU institutions ‘agenda and the Commission’s policy choices. She also stated that, although her political group would have preferred Mr Schulz as President of the EU executive body, the Socialist and Democrats have supported the Juncker Commission as there has been a widespread conviction that the new appointment method could be highly beneficial to European institutions’ effectiveness and credibility. She also underlined that the parliamentary discussions with the President-elect have made clear that there should be a comprehensive strategy which integrates economic and social goals, hence the debate on the EU economic governance and investment strategy has become a focal point of discussion.

Mr Telicka began his intervention by stating that the political groups have supported the President of the Commission with different emphases. He continued by adding that within the current debate “austerity versus stimulation of the economy”, neither of the two elements should be considered as a dogma and he envisaged a reasonable combination of these two features. He added that private capital attraction should be the main aim of the EU economic policies, as first of all it is still to be determined which impact Juncker’s 300 billion Europe package will have and secondly, the figures necessary to feed Europe’s need of investments are much higher. With regard to the Juncker Commission’s capacity to deliver on its programme, Mr Telicka agreed with the other panellists upon the fact that it would be too early for this kind of assessment. However he supported the idea of a more “political Commission” by welcoming the innovation of the so called “Spitzenkandidaten” method. Mr Telicka concluded by stating that his group support for Mr Juncker going forward would nevertheless be conditional on both the clarity and effectiveness of the Commission actions and on the objectives which the ALDE group pointed out during the parliamentary hearings.

A first point of discussion consisted of the new organisational structure of the Commission. As policy coordination is an issue which has been greatly discussed both at a national level and during candidate hearings, Mrs Lauristin emphasised her satisfaction with the decision to entrust the first vice-President in the domain of sustainable growth, which she pointed out as a good example of a horizontal policy magnitude. Mr Rosati replied by premising that this setting is an innovative experiment compared to the previous configuration. However, the potential for internal conflicts and misunderstandings concerning the competencies could increase as a result of the policy filtering by vice-Presidents and the overlapping of functions which the new organisation entails. In Mr Rosati’s opinion, the extent of the success of this system will also rely upon the capability of the President of the Commission to coordinate the action of the Commissioners. Mr Telicka intervened by premising that the Commission is notably a collegial entity and it should act accordingly, although it had not always been the case in the past. He added that the management of such a large organisation implies a certain level of coordination, supervision and communication; furthermore, clusters are a good organisational method as long as they are efficient.

Another point of discussion consisted of the question of the European economic model. Mrs Lauristin affirmed that economic performances should not only be measured in terms of macroeconomic data, but also via welfare indicators as, in her opinion, the quality of development is a crucial aspect of a sustainable growth. Regarding this matter, Mr Rosati pointed out that the EU accounts globally for 8% of the population, for 20% of the GDP and for 50% of expenditure in social spending. Hence, as these data show, economic growth should be the main priority of Juncker’s Commission. He emphasised that in the current situation, the EU cannot afford the social model it enjoys without focusing primarily on economic issues. Mr Telicka concluded the series of interventions by reminding of the importance of private investment attraction in Europe as a driver of growth.

The final part of the debate and the Q&A session also covered the following issues: the question of the “Lux Leaks” and the impact on the new Commission, the possible outcomes of the Juncker investment plan, the recent debate on the stability and growth pact with regard to France and Italy, the intergovernmental EU decision-making on the EU economic governance, the issue of regulatory discontinuity with the previous European Commission and the quality of EU legislation.

Do you want to go further into the issues discussed in our debate? Check our list of selected sources which we have provided for you

Jean-Paul Juncker, presidential campaign website

President-elect Juncker’s Main Messages from his speech before the European Parliament, European Commission press release

The new structure of the EU Commission, European Commission website

European Council must give Juncker a mandate to negotiate, Socialist and Democrats press release

ALDE Group assesses Juncker hearing, ALDE press release

Juncker and his college: The unexpected reformer? Centre for European Reform

Jean-Claude Juncker to unveil €315bn EU programme, Financial Times

Hogan Lovells website