How the Szydło affair keeps Commissioners-nominees hostage

In the chaos of transition between the Parliaments and the Commissions there are some surprise stories, twists and attempted shortcuts. There are unintended consequences and parallel processes that impact one another. Here’s one such story.

26 May, the end of European elections. Among new MEPs are two ex-Commissioners, Andrus Ansip and Corina Creţu.

2 June, President Jean-Claude Juncker says there is no need for a replacement of outgoing Commissioners Ansip and Creţu and that the Commission can cope with fewer members. He says that for the remaining of his College (4 months) there is no need for new people to join the team. Also, it would cost money.

Following his announcement, Mr Juncker proceeds with an adequate proposal for the Council. Clearly the news of savings in EU budget and the ‘no need’ argument are not received in Tallinn and Bucharest. This is a matter of principle. Back in 2009, when the Lisbon Treaty entered into force, the very first formal decision of the European Council was to make sure that the “one state = one commissioner” principle is respected.

1 July, the Estonian and Romanian governments propose new EU Commissioners, Kadri Simson from Estonia and Ioan Mircea Pașcu from Romania. Clearly this is a defeat for President Juncker.

Yet Mr Juncker is not ready to give in.

9 July, there is a re-arrangement in the Commission structure. There are 26 Commissioners, including the President and 5 Vice-Presidents. There are no Romanian and Estonian Commissioners.

Incidentally, the Juncker Commission started with 7 Vice-Presidents. After losing Kristalina Georgieva in 2016 and now Mr Ansip, the number of “vices” goes down significantly.

The new incoming Commissioners-nominees, before they become Commissioners, have to be approved by the European Parliament.

10 July, the new European Parliament elects its committee chairs. All except one. There is a problem in the employment and social affairs committee (EMPL), that fails to elect Beata Szydło, a former Polish PM, as its chairperson.

12 July, Ms Simson and Mr Mircea Pașcu, nominated against the better judgement of Mr Juncker, receive no portfolio from their boss. This creates a problem for the parliamentary hearings, which normally are organised by the committee or committees thematically responsible for the same portfolio as the Commissioner-nominee.

15 July, the EMPL committee fails to chose its leader for the second time.

In the absence of portfolios, the issue of hearings is delegated to the Conference of Committee Chairs (or, CCC) of the European Parliament. The problem here is, however, that it cannot meet or take any decisions until all EP committees are fully constituted.

So the future of Ms Kadri and Mr Mircea Pașcu depends on the ability of the EMPL committee to elect its chair. This is the unintended consequence. Their political position depends on the simple question: will ECR change a candidate? Should the ECR group continue to push for Ms Szydło, they may face a fierce opposition. Should the ECR group change a candidate, they could be endorsed by an acclamation, like the other ECR committee chair, Mr Johan Van Overtveldt (ECR/NVA) who is leading the work of the Budgets Committee (BUDG).

Should this problem be solved, the next one will be with the CCC to decide what to do about the hearings.

If the situation is not solved by the end of next week, the issue will return in September, to coincide with the other hearings of the new European Commission of Ursula von der Leyen, who, by then, will present a full College. Each one of these people will face the European Parliament.

Et alors?

How strange does it look for Mr Mircea Pașcu to be a Commissioner for just a few weeks? At least Ms Simson is supposed to be Commissioner for the entire term of the Ursula von der Leyen College.

It is difficult to escape a thought that being a Commissioner just for a few months simply pays so well: 22,367 Euro a month.

In a positive – and unintended – twist, it is a good delay to delay the process of appointments of two new Commissioners. Juncker is right: it is a nonsensical to appoint someone just for a few weeks. It is a waste of public money (Juncker talks of 1 million Euro savings, including the Commissioner and their cabinets members salaries, other allowances, etc.).

Thank you PiS for pushing for Ms Szydło and everybody else for blocking her. Isn’t this ironic?

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