Today (10 September), President-elect Ursula von der Leyen (VDL) presented her team and the new structure of the next European Commission college. The new structure reflects the priorities and ambitions set out in the Political Guidelines that received broad support from the European Parliament in July, writes Catherine Feore.
VDL wants the EU to lead on a “transition to a healthy planet and a new digital world”. But she is keen to emphasize that no one should be left behind. In some ways she has adopted the language of Macron and a Europe that protects. She referred to creating opportunities for all wherever they live, their gender, their age.
President-elect Ursula von der Leyen said: "We will take bold action against climate change, build our partnership with the United States, define our relations with a more self-assertive China and be a reliable neighbour, for example to Africa. This team will have to stand up for our values and world-class standards. My Commission will be a geopolitical Commission committed to sustainable policies. And I want the European Union to be the guardian of multilateralism. Because we know that we are stronger by doing together what we cannot do alone."
The President-elect repeatedly referred to the new Commission as “a geopolitical Commission”.
Earlier this year, the European Council on Foreign Relations commissioned YouGov to carry out surveys covering more than 60,000 people across Europe, the study found that European citizens appear to be more enthusiastic about the EU taking on a stronger geopolitical role than reflected by the current EU policies.
There will be three executive vice presidents (Vestager, Dombrovskis, Timmermans) and a further five vice presidents, including the High Representative, Josep Borrell. That makes a rather top-heavy eight vice presidents.
Three executive vice presidents will have a double function. They will be both vice president responsible for one of three core topics of the President-elect's agenda and Commissioners.
Executive Vice President Frans Timmermans (Netherlands) will co-ordinate the work on the European Green Deal. He will also manage climate action policy, supported by the Directorate-General for Climate Action.
President-elect Ursula von der Leyen said Europe’s Green Deal would become Europe’s hallmark: "Those who act first and fastest will be the ones who grasp the opportunities from the ecological transition. I want Europe to be the front-runner. I want Europe to be the exporter of knowledge, technologies and best practice."
Timmermans is a First Vice President in the current Commission, in his current position he has been a strong advocate for and defender of the rule of law and the EU's fundamental values.
Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager (Denmark) will co-ordinate our whole agenda on a Europe fit for the digital age. That the EVP will retain her role as the Commissioner for Competition, was met with surprise.
President-elect Ursula von der Leyen said: "We have to make our single market fit for the digital age, we need to make the most of artificial intelligence and big data, we have to improve on cybersecurity and we have to work hard for our technological sovereignty."
Big tech will be concerned by this assertion of a need for technological sovereignty. Vestager’s decisions as Competition Commissioner in the current mandate angered many of these companies, as well as the EU’s work on data protection, copyright and digital sales tax riled those companies who felt that the EU was unfairly focusing on them.
Valdis Dombrovskis will become the executive vice president for 'An Economy that Works for People' which will be a continuation of his current role, but without Pierre Moscovici to upstage him. His role will cover financial services, supported by the Directorate-General for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union.
President-elect Ursula von der Leyen said: "We have a unique social market economy. It is the source of our prosperity and social fairness. This is all the more important when we face a twin transition: climate and digital. Valdis Dombrovskis will lead our work to bring together the social and the market in our economy."
The five other vice presidents
Josep Borrell (Spain, current Spanish Foreign Minister): HR/VP-designate, A Stronger Europe in the World;
Věra Jourová (Czech Republic, commissioner in the Juncker Commission): Values and Transparency;
Margaritis Schinas (Greece, former MEP, long-serving official of the European Commission): Protecting our European Way of Life;
Maroš Šefčovič (Slovakia, vice president in the Juncker Commission): Interinstitutional Relations and Foresight;
Dubravka Šuica (Croatia, MEP): Democracy and Demography.
The other commissioners-designate are:
Johannes Hahn (Austria) will be in charge of ‘Budget and Administration', and will report directly to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. As a long-serving member of the College, he knows about the importance of nurturing a modern administration.
Didier Reynders (Belgium), who trained as a lawyer, is a highly experienced former national finance minister, minister for foreign and European affairs and minister of defence. In the new Commission, he will be responsible for ‘Justice' (including the topic of the rule of law).
Mariya Gabriel (Bulgaria) is a current European Commissioner. She worked with dedication and energy on the digital portfolio, and is now moving on to create new perspectives for the young generation (‘Innovation and Youth' portfolio).
Stella Kyriakides (Cyprus) is a medical psychologist with many years of experience in the field of social affairs, health and cancer prevention. She will lead the ‘Health' portfolio.
Kadri Simson (Estonia) is a long-serving member of the Estonian parliament and Minister for Economic Affairs and Infrastructure. She will be in charge of the ‘Energy' portfolio.
Jutta Urpilainen (Finland) was not only Finance Minister and a long-standing member of the Finnish Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee; she has also worked as a special envoy in Ethiopia. She will take over responsibility for ‘International Partnerships'.
Sylvie Goulard (France), former MEP, is a dedicated and convinced European. As the ‘Internal Market' commissioner, she will lead our work on industrial policy and promote the Digital Single Market. She will also be responsible for the new Directorate-General for Defence Industry and Space.
László Trócsányi (Hungary) is the former minister of justice of Hungary. He will lead the ‘Neighbourhood and Enlargement' portfolio.
Phil Hogan (Ireland), the incumbent commissioner for agriculture, will bring his experience to the new Commission in the ‘Trade' portfolio.
Paolo Gentiloni (Italy), former Italian prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, will be sharing his vast experience in the ‘Economy' portfolio.
Virginijus Sinkevičius (Lithuania), Lithuanian minister for economy and innovation, will be responsible for ‘Environment and Oceans'.
Nicolas Schmit (Luxembourg) is bringing his experience from the European Parliament and his service as national minister for Employment and Labour, and will now be responsible for the ‘Jobs' portfolio.
Helena Dalli (Malta) has dedicated her political life to equality, serving as minister for social dialogue, consumer affairs and civil liberties, and also as a Minister for European Affairs and Equality. She will lead the ‘Equality' portfolio.
Janusz Wojciechowski (Poland) was a long-serving Member of the European Parliament in the Agriculture Committee and is currently a Member of the European Court of Auditors. He will be in charge of the portfolio ‘Agriculture'.
Elisa Ferreira (Portugal) is currently Vice-Governor of Banco de Portugal. She has been a Member of the European Parliament for many years, and was the Portuguese Minister for Planning and Minister for Environment. She will lead the ‘Cohesion and Reforms' portfolio.
Rovana Plumb (Romania) is a Member of the European Parliament (Vice-President of the Social and Democrats Group), and is a former national minister of environment and climate change, minister of labour, minister of European funds, minister of education and minister of transport. She will be in charge of the ‘Transport' portfolio.
Janez Lenarčič (Slovenia) is a Slovenian diplomat. He was secretary of state for European Affairs, and worked closely for several years with the United Nations, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the European Union. He will be in charge of the ‘Crisis Management' portfolio.
Ylva Johansson (Sweden) is national minister for employment and also a former minister for schools and minister for health and elderly care and member of the Swedish Parliament. She is also a highly respected expert in the fields of employment, integration, health and welfare. She will lead the ‘Home Affairs' portfolio.
European Parliament gives partial go-ahead to UK trade deal vote
The European Parliament gave the go-ahead on Tuesday (13 April) for two key committees to vote this week on the EU-UK trade deal, but deferred a decision on whether the full parliament will give its assent later this month, writes Philip Blenkinsop.
The vote by parliament would be a final step in clearing the trade agreement struck between Britain and the European Union in December. Members of the parliament suspended the voting process in March in protest against British changes to arrangements on Northern Ireland.
Agriculture: Short-term outlook report favourable for EU agricultural sectors
The Commission has published the latest short-term outlook report for EU agricultural markets. This regular publication presents a general and sector-by-sector overview of the latest tendencies and further prospects for agri-food markets. The first 2021 edition concludes that the EU agricultural sector has shown resilience throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The sector performed relatively well thanks to increased retail sales and home consumption.
In addition, prospects are favourable with a dynamic global demand and the reopening of food services (restaurants, bars, cafés) expected once the vaccination campaign is sufficiently advanced. Recent trade developments will reduce uncertainties around the EU's trade relations, benefitting agricultural sectors. Among those developments, the US and the EU have agreed to temporarily suspend tariffs related to the civil aircraft disputes early March 2021. In addition, the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement was concluded late 2020. Still, both sides will need time to adapt and provide necessary conditions for optimal trade exchanges. For full details concerning specific markets, see the news item and the report available online.
European Year of Rail: Hop on the Connecting Europe Express
The Connecting Europe Express, one of the European Year of Rail 2021's most emblematic initiatives, is being presented today during the official European Year of Rail kick-off conference, organised in cooperation with the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU. The event takes place on the eve of an informal meeting of EU Transport Ministers focusing on different ways to accelerate a modal shift to rail. As of September, the Connecting Europe Express will travel across the EU and stop in most European capitals to promote the many benefits of rail - for passengers, freight and the environment. The project will also raise awareness of the importance of financing sustainable infrastructure such as rail, and EU support for such investment, including through the recently agreed new Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), worth €33.7 billion, as part of the next long-term EU budget 2021-2027. The train's journey is possible thanks to good cooperation between European rail operators and infrastructure managers. Transport Commissioner Adina Vălean said: “The Connecting Europe Express will be a real, tangible example of the power of rail to connect. At each of the almost 40 stops, events will bring together the rail sector at large, as well as civil society organisations, local and regional authorities, and the wider public, to discuss the benefits of rail, as well as what still has to be done so that rail can become the number one option for passengers and business.”
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