What EP hearings told us about Juncker’s Commission

After the hearings of Commissioners and ahead of the vote in the EP I would like to ask about your impressions. What the hearings and surrounding events tell us about the future of the Commission and relation between EU institutions in your opinion? Read few comments.

Frank HägeLecturer in Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Limerick

The fact that Juncker’s appointment is a direct result of the outcome of EP elections suggests that the Commission’s allegiance has somewhat shifted from the Council (which previously had pretty much a free hand in nominating whoever it thought was suitable) to the European Parliament. Thus, the relationship between the Commission and the European Parliament might become closer, with the latter demanding more influence on the Commission’s priorities and more justifications and accountability for the Commission’s actions.

However, it is very unlikely that the relationship will approach anything akin to the mutual dependency and control between government and its supporting parliamentary majority existing in most national political systems. In general, I would be surprised to see very significant changes in day-to-day policy-making. The EU is a system of checks and balances, where every institution has to rely on the cooperation of the others to adopt legislation. The Commission usually has the exclusive right to initiate legislation, but the EP and the Council are the actual legislative bodies who can change the bill and whose mutual agreement is required for its eventual adoption. Thus, to see its proposal through the legislative process, the Commission relies in both bodies on the support of a grand coalition of the major moderate right and left wing parties (in the case of the EP, now even more so than in previous terms, given the success of fringe parties in the election). The result of such a process will be middle-of-the-road policies based on a broad consensus of the major parties in the political centre. In this respect, it’s just going to be business as usual.

Paulo Vila MaiorAssistant Professor, the Faculty of Human and Social Sciences, University Fernando Pessoa

The EP hearings to the nominees to the European Commission did not differ substantially from previous cases. The EP adopted a though stance on proposed members of the Commission who were not competent on their supposed field of expertise and on those who were not convincing about their personal profile. As before, one national government (Slovenia) was asked to change its nominee.
To this purpose, the EP just acted like it did in the past. The parliament corroborated its highly visible role on what concerns the assessment of nominees to the Commission. If anything, this role should be convincing enough to show EU citizens how important EP elections are. Maybe this should be sized as an opportunity to appropriately communicate how politically salient the EP is. I am a little bit skeptical on this prospect, however.

At another level, the key question is whether the new Commission (together with the incoming EP) is set to change EU inter-institutional relationships. Some thoughts come into the table on this regard. It has to be confirmed whether the intergovernmental slump is going to last. According to many observers, this was one of the outcomes of the current Eurozone crisis. If the trend is confirmed for the incoming years, that might have one of two opposing effects. On the one hand, institutions representing supranational interests (notably the Commission and the EP) might stumble and fall within the balance of power among EU institutions. The EU will, therefore, swing towards more intergovernmentalism and increasingly rely on national interests battered in the Council of Ministers and in the European Council. On the other hand, this might be the opportunity for the EP and the Commission to fight back and put the EU back on a supranational track again. It all depends on how politically powerful they can be, especially the European Commission. Which, in turn, relies on the political salience of its president and the other members of the Commission. Time will tell whether this window of opportunity was open and whether the EP and the Commission were able to get back on the chessboard of influential decisions.

Paul IvanResearch Assistant, Centre for European Policy Studies

The hearings showed us that the Parliament has largely taken its role seriously and also used this opportunity to show its muscles. The Parliament has scored an important victory by pushing through the Spitzenkandidaten process but it’s too early to say if this system is here to stay. For that one would need a future agreement between the Parliament and the Council.

However, the hearings don’t tell us much about the future of the Commission because it’s still not clear how the new Commission college will work. In practice, the difference between regular commissioners and vice-presidents might not be as big as portrayed i.e. some Commissioners will not easily accept to be coordinated by others so coordination would probably prove harder to achieve than it is intended.

Simon UsherwoodAssociate Dean, Senior Lecturer, Department of Politics, University of Surrey

The EP hearings have highlighted how the Spitzenkandidaten process has started to politicise the Commission, by making the political allegiances of individual commissioners even more important in the approval process. Juncker has also been much more ready to take political standpoints than Barroso, so we would expect this to become more obvious over time. However, the Parliament has also shown that I will not be letting the commission do what it wants, so the next few weeks will be important in confirming whether the EP is able to force further changes on the Commission team (especially on Bulc, who is already a replacement).

 

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