Written by Etienne Bassot,
In her statements to the European Parliament in July and November 2019, as candidate for European Commission President and President-elect respectively, Ursula von der Leyen outlined the six political priorities that would shape the working programme of the European Commission over the next five years. While the former Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, had claimed to lead a ‘political Commission‘, his successor, Ursula von der Leyen, has pledged to lead a ‘geopolitical Commission‘. Such a Commission will have a political agenda in which reinforcing the EU’s role as a relevant international actor, and trying to shape a better global order through reinforcing multilateralism, is to become a key priority (‘A stronger Europe in the world’). The other main political priorities of the Commission are brought together under five broad headings: ‘A European Green Deal’, ‘A Europe fit for the digital age’, ‘An economy that works for people’, ‘A new push for European democracy’, and ‘Promoting the European way of life’. Together they define the framework within which the Commission will act in the coming five years. The structure and working methods announced by von der Leyen show that her Commission will differ from its predecessors in a number of ways.
What is new in the ‘geopolitical Commission’
Concerned about the coordination and coherence of the College’s activities and decisions, von der Leyen has decided to structure the Commission around three executive vice‑presidents (Frans Timmermans, Margrethe Vestager, and Valdis Dombrovskis) and five vice‑presidents (Josep Borrell Fontelles, Maroš Šefčovič, Věra Jourová, Dubravka Šuica, and Margaritis Schinas). The executive vice-presidents are to assume a dual role as commissioners dealing both with a specific portfolio and as coordinators responsible for one of the core topics of the political agenda, while the five remaining vice-presidents will assume a single coordinating role for specific policy priorities.
The High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (Borrell), who also has the role of Vice-President (HR/VP, Article 18(4) TEU), coordinates the external aspects of the work of all Commissioners, in addition to being responsible for the European External Action Service (EEAS). The importance attached to the EU’s external action under von der Leyen’s political priorities explains why external policy will be systematically discussed and decided upon by the College. A specific Group for external coordination (EXCO) has been created to prepare the external aspects of College meetings on a weekly basis and to enhance coordination between the Commission and the EEAS. It remains to be seen how this new approach and emphasis will fit with the dual character of the mandate of the HR/VP and the prevalence of the Council in every decision taken under the common foreign and security policy.
The Commission President had originally assembled a gender-balanced College, although this balance was lost with the new candidates replacing those who failed to pass the parliamentary hearings process. But von der Leyen has sought to favour gender equality with new rules for the composition Commissioners’ cabinets (private offices), requiring Commissioners to include 50 % of women among their administrator staff. She has also pledged to work towards gender equality among the Commission’s senior management.
Read the complete briefing on ‘The von der Leyen Commission’s priorities for 2019-2024‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.