The New EU Commission: stormy waters beneath a calm surface

maandag 16 december 2019, 13:00.
Auteur: Franco Peirone

On 27 November 2019 the EU Parliament finally gave the green light to the new EU Commission, targeted Von der Leyen for its president. The Parliament Members, after a long period spent in the hearing process aimed to establish suitability of commissionercandidates, have approved the college by 461 votes to 157 against, with 89 abstentions.

Apparently, the new Commission starts its job under a benevolent start. The Commission as a whole has obtained a parliamentary majority larger than the initial vote for the President Von der Leyen and the former Juncker Commission. The three main parties in the Parliament – EPP (10 Commissioners), PES (9 Commissioners) and ALDE (6 Commissioners) – support the executive and they are all, generally, pushing for a further EU integration. As a sign of relevant political change, it is the first woman Commission President and it has the largest proportion of female Commissioners to date. However, some tensions stir under this calm sea and forecast a storm coming. These tensions relate to three countries which are troubling the EU since quite few years and whose negative attitude toward Bruxelles can be detected from the profile of their Commissioners.

First at all, a self-evident fact: the new Commission is only made of 27 members, since the United Kingdom Government has refused to indicate a member for the composition of the EU executive, due to the coming departure from the EU scheduled, at the moment, for January 31st 2020. The (former) EU Commission has then launched an infringement procedure against the United Kingdom, since refusing to indicate a name for the Commission is a violation of the EU Treaties (Art. 17(5) TEU). This may preludes to an intensification of the conflict over Brexit, and also triggers some questions. What will be the attitude of the new Commission toward the United Kingdom? Would be possible to appoint a later Commission if Brexit did not happen?

Other concerns stem from the Commissioners Olivér Várhelyi (Neighborhood and Enlargement) and Janusz Wojciechowski (Agriculture), designated respectively by Hungary and Poland. As known, both the countries are currently facing Art. 7(1) TEU procedures, whose applications have been started by the former Parliament and Commission. The new Commission has not yet spoken on that regard, even if its interest for the rule of law in the EU has not been listed as a priority in its agenda.

The appointment of the Hungary Commissioner has been particularly problematic, since the EU Parliament's Legal Affairs Committee rejected the original nominee László Trócsányi, for having being, as Minsitry of Justice of the Orban Government, responsible for the enactment of norms that have undermined the rule of law in Hungary. The defeat of his candidate has lead to the fierce reaction of Hungary, who at the end suggested a different name but promised to wage war against Bruxelles. The situation is even more dramatic considering that the portfolio given to the Hungarian Commissioner is the Neighborhood and Enlargement, two fields where Hungary particularly shines dark: Orban’s Government attitude to EU neighborhood countries is openly hostile and its own country would probably now fail to meet the Copenhagen criteria established for acceding to the EU.

Poland preference for the Agriculture portfolio has been accommodated, considering how much its agricultural sector depends on the EU funding. The candidate profile has not raised particular concern but its Government, beyond Art. 7 TEU, is currently facing another series of defeats in infringement procedures before the CJEU for modifying its own judiciary in defiance of the EU values of independence of judges and separation of powers (the most recent CJEU, C-192/18, Commission v. Poland, 5 November 2019). Poland attitude to the EU seems geared not toward a ‘Polexit’, but rather than to a EU values exit from the Poland political-constitutional framework.

Conclusively, the new EU Commission starts with significant novelties in its composition and a prospective stable majority for pursuing its goals; however, it has yet to be seen which kind of resistance it will find in achieving them due to the conflict that it is shaking the EU from the inside.

Franco Peirone is universitair docent Europees en Consitutioneel Recht aan de Universiteit Maastricht.