Saturday 14 December 2019

'Team Juncker' faces one last hurdle - then the Herculean tasks beckon

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker
John Downing

John Downing

'I am convinced it will be a winning team," the new EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said as he presented his 27 Commission colleagues for the first time.

But the veteran Luxembourg politician knows the Herculean tasks awaiting 'Team Juncker' for the next five years. The big ones are: helping deal with the Ukrainian crisis; keeping Britain on board and stemming widespread citizens' hostility towards the EU; and above all restarting the 28-nation trade bloc economy and giving half a billion people work and hope for the future in what is cumulatively the world's biggest economy.

The eurozone crisis appears to have abated but the European economy is stalled with warnings of a decade of stagnation and deflation.

But observers agreed that Juncker did get off to a good start and gave France and Britain top positions, looking after the big EU players with big problems.

The French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici got the much-sought-after economic affairs commissioner job, a decision undoubtedly approved by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has looked askance at France's indebted economy. Britain, whose continued EU membership is threatened by a surge of support for EU-hating elements and facing a referendum in 2017, got the financial services post for its nominee Jonathan Hill.

The jury is out on Juncker's decision to appoint seven "super commissioners" or vice-presidents who will oversee policy themes. Up to now vice-president positions were given to people who did not get "real jobs" and the 25pc pay bonus was a consolation.

But Juncker is determined that this new "magnificent seven" can drive progress and he threatened a reshuffle if the appointees do not work out. Observers noted that two of these vice-presidents will supervise the work of the new economy commissioner.

Overall, Juncker's new line-up includes many political heavy-hitters with four former prime ministers and several former finance ministers. The European Commission is the most powerful of the EU institutions, drafting EU legislation, policing national budgets, having wide direct competition regulation powers and also negotiating international treaties.

Phil Hogan's main rival for the Agriculture Commissioner's job, Spain's Miguel Arias Canete, got the key energy and climate change post, which has huge importance as the Ukraine crisis threatens Russian gas supplies. Everybody assumes that moving Germany's Gunther Oettinger from energy to digital economy was cleared with Berlin.

Two of the nine women among the 28 commissioners also got powerful posts. Cecilia Malmstroem of Sweden got trade and Denmark's Margrethe Vestager got the competition portfolio with wide direct powers to take on multinationals.

Another powerful woman's post, that of EU diplomatic head, was already announced two weeks ago as going to Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini and she must confront the Ukrainian crisis.

Greece's Dimitris Avramopoulos, whose country faces a massive influx of illegal migrants from the Middle East and Africa, takes on immigration and justice. Like Phil Hogan, his work will have immediate relevance in his home country'.

'Team Juncker' is all but in place. Next up is a series of gruelling public ratification hearings for all 27 nominees at the European Parliament and then a final vote.

Irish Independent

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