New European Commission Takes Office: Next Steps Seen As Critical to the Future of the European Union

Kelley Drye Client Advisory

The new European Commission begins work in Brussels this week under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker, former Prime Minister of Luxembourg (1995-2013).  The College of Commissioners, made up of one representative of each of the 28 Member States of the European Union (EU), is appointed for a five year term through 2019.  Echoing the centrist mainstream of the European Parliament, fourteen of the new Commissioners are members of the European People’s Party (Christian Democrats) (EPP); eight are from the party of Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats (S&D); five are from the Alliance of Liberals & Democrats for Europe (ALDE); and one is a member of the European Conservatives & Reformists Group (ECR).   With a fundamental focus on jobs and growth, the Juncker Commission’s mantra is to address the big issues and leave the small issues to the Member States under the principle of subsidiarity.

With four former prime-ministers and seven returning Commissioners, the Juncker team possesses formidable credentials; however, growing Euro-skepticism and continuing economic concerns have generated intense pressure to avoid business as usual.”  Indeed, the Commission’s next steps are widely seen as critical to the future of the EU. Juncker himself has identified the next five years as the last chance to gain the confidence of Europeans.

In the run-up to the October 22nd approval of the new Commission by the European Parliament, Juncker revealed his plans for change, including restructuring the Commission and a shift in focus towards the bigger picture.  The restructuring includes the creation of a First Vice-President position, filled by Dutchman Frans Timmermans (S&D), to focus on better regulation, fundamental rights and sustainable development.   Six other vice-presidents will have overarching responsibilities, including coordination of portfolios under the authority of twenty more Commissioners.  The spread of portfolios with potential overlap among the Commissioners is intended to reduce the silo effect” of the subject-specific Directorate Generals under the previous Commissions.  In a process-oriented move calculated to promote consensus in the face of strong Member State divisions, President Juncker has made clear that the Vice-Presidents will have to reach agreement among them before any initiative is presented to the entire College of Commissioners.   In another decision designed to maintain the focus on key pressing issues, President Juncker has announced a five year freeze on enlargement of the EU, despite ongoing discussions with the Balkan States.

Key to the Juncker jobs and growth” agenda are the digital economy, energy and capital markets.  Vice-President Andrus Ansip (Digital Market, Estonia, ALDE) will work to reform rules for a single telecom market; to promote rapid transposition of the Data Protection Directive; and to guard against monopoly Internet positions. Commissioners Günther Oettinger (Digital Economy and Society, Germany, EPP) and  Vĕra Jourová (Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, Czech Republic, ALDE) will support work on data protection.  Commissioner Oettinger also will pursue copyright reform at the same time as revision of digital rules.  Vice-Presidents Maroš Šefčovič (Energy Union, Slovakia, S&D) and Jyrki Katainen (Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Finland, EPP) will push for binding targets for the EU’s 2030 climate and energy framework; promote common gas purchases; eliminate biofuel targets after 2020; develop further energy trade with Norway and Algeria; and reform the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme to promote investment in climate-friendly technologies. Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete (Spain, EPP) will focus on combatting climate change; increasing coordination of national energy policies; and a new legislative proposal on shale gas.   Commissioner Carlos Moedas (Research, Science and Innovation, Portugal, EPP) will promote clean energy, renewables and green growth while Commissioner Violeta Bulc (Transport, Slovenia, ALDE) will push for integrated carbon measurements and, together with Commissioner Karmenu Vella (Environment, Maritime Affairs & Fisheries, Malra, S&D), increased renewables.  Commissioner Vella also will be working to eliminate the use of dangerous chemicals.

Vice-President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini (Italy, S&D) will seek to improve the EU’s ability to speak with one voice on foreign affairs and will prioritize the Minsk Agreement and Middle East peace talks.  Trade policy will be overseen by Commission veteran Cecilia Malmström (Sweden, ALDE) who, in addition to managing the negotiations of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States, will focus on finalizing agreements with the African, Carribean and Pacific countries and an enhanced agreement with Mexico. A key trade issue, on which Vice-President Timmermans’ opinion will be pivotal, is whether Investor State-Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which can limit jurisdiction by Member State courts over companies or states, will be incorporated into TTIP.

As part of his focus on better regulation, First Vice-President Timmermans already has announced his intention to introduce a mandatory registration system for lobbyists approaching the European Commission and Parliament.   Kelley, Drye & Warren LLP voluntarily complies with requirements and disclosures under the current optional Transparency Register and supports a mandatory registration system.

About Our Brussels Office

Kelley Drye & Warren’s Brussels office was established to reflect clients’ increasing need for government relations assistance alongside traditional legal representation. The office advises on all aspects of the European Union’s laws, ranging from assisting clients with legislative developments and policy initiatives that may impact their business operations to advising on compliance with the Union’s regulations as implemented by its 28 Member States.

Working closely with Kelley Drye’s Washington D.C. attorneys and professionals, the Brussels office helps clients understand complex international and European policy and legislative processes relating to food and drug, animal welfare, environmental matters, mobility and consumer products. We create and implement strategies, including through advocacy with the European Commission and European Parliament, to proactively protect and advance business interests as well as to solve problems when they arise. The office specializes in assistance with the negotiation and domestic implementation of international treaties and conventions, including advice and assistance with conducting business operations subject to various multilateral environmental agreements and complying with increasingly complex export control and sanction regimes.