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Our New, um, Government November 26, 2009

Posted by Tomboktu in Uncategorized.
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Actually, I’m not writing about a new government in the traditional sense of that word, but about the make up of the new European Commission, which was finalised today. (The portfolios have not yet been sorted, though.)

Three European-level political have seats in the new Commission: the EPP (of which Fine Gael is a member), ALDE (of which, more recently, Fianna Fáil has become a member) and the renamed S&D, of which Labour is a member.

The distribution of seats is not good for the Left. Although S&D won twice as many seats as the ALDE in the European Parliament elections last June (184 for S&D to 84 for ALDE), they have fewer seats in the new Commission: 6 out of the 27 for the S&D against 8 for the ALDE.

With only a third of the members coming from the S&D, the next Commission is not going to be good for those of us on the Left.

The list is here: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8378401.stm)

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1. John Palmer - November 26, 2009

I take your point WbS about the strongly Centre-Right complexion of the new European Commission – certainly compared with the number of Social Democrats and Liberals (with which FF is strangely enough affiliated) in the college. This reflects the overwhelming preponderance of elected conservative led governments across the 27 EU Member States. It also (but less proportionately) reflects the outcome of the direct elections to the European Parliament. Now clearly I would much prefer (at this stage anyway) a Commission which had a Social Democrat majority – maybe flanked by a number of Green and Lefty Socialist Commissioners. But that is not the current political reality.
Actually I welcome the greater recognition that the Commission (as the nearest to a supra-national governmental executive in the EU) should reflect the outcome of democratic struggle. In my opinion there has been too much – not too little – wheeler dealing between the parties irrespective of the outcome of elections. In part this is motivated by a genuine desire to mobilise a consensus for mildly progressive policies. But it also stifles serious debate and – hence – serious democratic choice at the European level. And THAT breeds isolationist, reactionary euro-scepticism. It is urgent that the European left forces (social democrat, Green and socialist) should define their future European projects in far more concrete terms than they have been allowed to do so far by their national party affiliates). Many of the most important issues vital to the left – sustainable growth, decent employment, socially useful innovation, better international regulation of capital, policies for equal opportunities and labour rights etc – can only be substantially realised by action at the European level. What is interesting is the way in which the European Union centre right – aware of the pending social crisis which maybe be unleashed by the collapse of the neo-liberal capitalist order has moved its official rhetoric markedly in a “social” and “green” direction.” This creates important space for the left to hold them to account.

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2. WorldbyStorm - November 26, 2009

That wasn’t me John, Tombuktu wrote the piece above…

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3. Desmond O'Toole (PES activists Dublin) - November 26, 2009

John makes a number of important points. Activists from the Dublin Citygroup of the Party of European Socialists (PES) will be heading for Prague next weekend (7-8 Dec) for the PES Congress, two of which are held in every parliamentary term.

The entire issue of how a mainstream European Left political discourse is developed will be a major theme of that Congress, especially in the light of the disappointing European Parliament election results, and the failure of that election to move much beyond 27 individual national political competitions.

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen (PES President and former PM of Denmark) has spoken of the role that the PES needs to play in constructing what he terms the “fourth house of European democracy” (after the local, regional and national levels). The development of international political relatonships beyond the party oficials and MEPs and towards the activist layer is a critical part of that effort.

Another essential part is the one that John averts to, namely, the need for a competitive relationship between different political analyses at the European level and a more sharply drawn Left-Right discourse. The mainstream Left group in the European Parliament, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, drove a lot of this development in the last parliament. Parliamentary debates have increasingly demonstrated a Left-Right divide. Martin Schulz MEP, leader of the S&D Group, has undertaken to take this development even further in this parliament. The strength of the conservatives and liberals in the European Commission will paradoxically facilitate this growing tendency, especially if the Commission continues to demonstrate the same sort of foot-dragging that has typified their response to the current economic crisis.

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4. John Palmer - November 26, 2009

Sorry wBs – I missed that.

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5. Tomboktu - November 27, 2009

Here then is the proposed portfolio distribution.

— President – José Manuel Barroso (Portugal – EPP)
High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security – Lady Ashton (UK – S&D)
Competition – Joaquin Almunia (Spain – S&D)
— Economic and Monetary Affairs – Olli Rehn (Finland – ELDR)
— Internal Market and Services – Michel Barnier (France – EPP)
— Trade – Karel De Gucht (Belgium – ELDR)
— Energy – Guenther Oettinger (Germany – EPP)
— Environment – Janez Potočnik (Slovenia – ELDR)
Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion – Laszlo Andor (Hungary – S&D)
— Budget – Janusz Lewandowski (Poland – EPP)
Enlargement – Štefan Füle (Czech Republic – S&D)
— Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship – Viviane Reding (Luxembourg – EPP)
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries – Maria Damanaki (Greece – S&D)
— Regional Policy – Johannes Hahn (Austria – EPP)
— Climate Action – Connie Hedegaard (Denmark – EPP)
— Research and Innovation – Maire Geoghegan-Quinn (Republic of Ireland – ELDR)
— Transport – Siim Kallas (Estonia – ELDR)
— Health and Consumer Policy – John Dalli (Malta – EPP)
— Agriculture and Rural Development – Dacian Ciolos (Romania – EPP)
— International Co-operation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response – Rumiana Jeleva (Bulgaria – EPP)
— Digital Agenda – Neelie Kroes (the Netherlands – ELDR)
— Development – Andris Piebalgs (Latvia – EPP)
— Home Affairs – Cecilia Malmstroem (Sweden – ELDR)
— Industry and Entrepreneurship – Antonio Tajani (Italy – EPP)
— Taxation and Customs Union, Audit and Anti-Fraud – Algirdas Šemeta (Lithuania – EPP)
Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration – Maroš Šefčovič (Slovakia – S&D)
— Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth – Androulla Vassiliou (Cyprus – ELDR)

Interesting that one of the S&D portfolios is competition, a major economic role (as Microsoft has learnt). I wonder is it going to Almunia because Barosso wants (or needs) to give a major economic portfolio to the S&D or if he wants (or needs) to give one to Spain. I am not familiar with the ins and outs, but I think the EU competition legislation has had a major overhaul not too long ago, so the Commissioner from Spain may have less to do in shaping the rules of the game than in overseeing how the game is played, and I doubt that will result in any significant changes.

At the other end of the “oomph” spectrum we have the S&D commissioner from Slovakia, with a portfolio with a title that looks like it was invented for Yes Minister: “Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration”. I think we are not so blatant here in Ireland in using a junior minister’s title to say they are there to balance the regional profile of the team. (However, Šefčovič is also to become a Vice-President of the Commission, whatever that means.)

As I noted recently (in not the most riveting or hotly debated of contributions to CLR), the issue of directors’ remuneration has been on the EU agenda. If it stays in the Internal Market portfolio, then we have Michel Barnier taking up that baton.

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6. John Palmer - November 28, 2009

Tomboktu: I do not this it going too far to say that the nature of the portfolio distribution in this Commission marks a very radical turning point in the evolution of the institution. Of course there are too many Commissioners. There are in reality about 12 significant portfolios – maybe 15. But there is no persuading governments that there should be fewer Commissioners than the number of member states.
More important is the emergence of “Commission teams.” There are 2 particularly important such groupings: the economy and foreign affairs.
I don’t think the significance of the economic grouping is yet fully understood. The days of largely independent Commission “fiefdoms” are over: the goal now will be not merely “economic growth and competitiveness” but to transit to “sustainable, innovative and socially cohesive growth.” Indeed this may well demand an end to reliance of crude GDP statistics and a move to indicators which reflect the environmental sustainability of growth and the measurement of the reduction of social inequality. The Finn Olli Rehn – together with Hedegaard (climate – Denmark), Andor (employment/social – Hungary), Potockik (environment – Slovenia), Energy (Oettinger – Germany) and Geoghagen-Quinn – will have to sink or swim together. They face an increasingly powerful European Parliament and have FIRST to convince MEPs that they are upto the task. The bench mark is being set higher than ever in the past. The job of the left will be to hold them to their declared aspirations.

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Tomboktu - November 28, 2009

Will the Parliament reject them because of their competence? I know the Parliament last time forced a change in the nomination of the nominee by the Italian government, but that was on a “liberal” issue rather than one of either his competence as a policy maker per se or his economic outlook.

I doubt the S&D group in the Parliament would be able to hobble together a blocking majority because of the overall profile of the team, and that any surprises would need to be along the lines of an individual’s dirty linen being serious enough for them to be replaced.

(I haven’t looked at the rules governing this Commission’s appointment. Am I right to presume the Parliament’s role is the same as last time: technically they can reject the whole team, not an individual nominee.)

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Desmond O'Toole (PES activists Dublin) - November 29, 2009

@ Tomboktu. You are right.

Article 17.7 of the TEU (Lisbon Treaty) refers to the European Commission being “… subject as a body to a vote of consent by the European Parliament.”

I can’t see the S&D group attempting to vote down the proposed Commission this time, particularly given the succes in securing the High Rep position and the relative weakness of the PES in the Commission. Some sound and fury will be generated, however, if the EPP follow-through on their demand that Commissioners-designate “… must under no circumstances have been associated with oppressive regimes and must not have participated in non-democratic governments or political movements.”

I can’t see this red-baiting seriously derailing the proposed Commission, especially given Barosso’s former dalliance with Maoism in Portugal, but you never know!

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7. WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration… well Yes Minister or The Thick of It. One or the other! Been watching Yes Prime Minister again for the first time in years and it’s still pretty entertaining.

I’d wonder too about the divvying up of the spoils. I don’t know either the deep processes that lead to these outcomes. Does anyone who contributes here? John Palmer, where are you? We need you!

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8. WorldbyStorm - November 28, 2009

Oops… you arrived before I called! Appreciate that.

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9. Tomboktu - December 12, 2009
Desmond O'Toole (PES activists Dublin) - December 12, 2009

That’s as good an analysis as any I’ve heard about the negotiations surounding the selection of the new leadership of the EU’s institutions. Thanks for the link Tom.

I’m also just back from the PES Congress in Prague where, amongst other things, the statutes were changed to ensure that the PES will present an agreed candidate for Commission President at the next (and all future) European Parliament elections. The ludicrous situation where the PES was prevented from offering an agreed Left candidate because of the support of certain PES PM’s for Barosso caused great anger across the PES.

The intergovernmentalism so favoured by Brown and to a lesser extent by Zapatero is collapsing in the PES and being replaced by a broader democracy.

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