...and who’s the best at the Commission ?

Our ranking of the best (and the worst) Commissioners of the Class Barroso II

There are classes and then there are classes. The Commissioners of the mandate 2010-2014 have been in charge for a year, under the second Presidency of Jose Manuel Barroso. National news correspondents are always comparing the ministers of their countries, awarding brownie points and punishing gaffes, highlighting the hopeful and the lost political causes. There was therefore no reason why we should not do the same thing for the Commissioners. Here is a subjective review of the worst and best Euro Commissioners according to The Euros.

Top of the class

1. Kristalina Georgieva : an active Commissioner

At the audition for the potential members at the beginning of the legislature, the European Parliament did a good job in exchanging the weak Bulgarian candidate Rumiana Jeleva for Kristalina Georgieva, a candidate of far superior calibre. It was a near thing for the Bulgarian candidate but she soon quelled initial fears surrounding her appointment. With the international profile of a technocrat (Vice-President of the World Bank) used to dealing with environmental issues and development, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response knew how to present the European Commission in the best light.

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Kristalina Georgieva, European Commissioner for Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response

From the toxic sludge in Hungary to the earthquake in Chile, she was able to show that Europe was present and effective to the extent of its means. Through excellent cooperation with the European Parliament, member states and NGOs, she could be where she needed to be when she needed to be there. The European Voice did not make a mistake : the Bulgarian Commissioner, who regularly keeps a blog, has been elected Commissioner of the Year by a jury of European journalists and lobbyists.

- A tip for Kristalina Georgieva : be yourself, keep it up, try to transmit your energy to your classmates.

2. Joint : Joaquin Almunia & Viviane Reding : pragmatism and bulldozer

The two Vice-Presidents of the European Commission (the first one a Spanish socialist, the other one a Christian Democratic from Luxembourg) do not have an easy role : they must enforce the European law. The first one polices competition, the second one criminal and contract law, fundamental rights and citizenship. Not much, then.

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Fancy a cup of coffee with Joaquin Almunia, Commissioner for Competition ?

The youngest Minister under Felipe Gonzalez early in his career, in 1982, the Vice-President of the European Commission is in his second term. He was Commissioner of Economic and Monetary Affairs under Barroso I.

Each of them had to deal with small political storms : for Viviane Reding the case of the Roma in France, whereas for Joaquin Almunia it was the numerous protests of the Member States following the decisions of the Commission to prohibit mergers and punish cartels (the latest is that of air cargo cartel).

But each of them, in his/her own style, has been praised : pragmatism, determination and a willingness to listen have been accredited to Joaquin Almunia, the Spanish former trade unionist (and Felipe Gonzales’ Minister for Work). The former journalist from Luxembourg, meanwhile, has been hailed for her more attacking, direct and upfront approach.

Their complementary qualities, combined with their vision of Europe and knowledge of their respective areas, confirm two facts : 1) Jose Manuel Barroso chose his Vice-Presidents well, 2) being in office for the second or third time at the European Commission makes for intelligent and politically sharp Commissioners.

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Viviane Reding, Vice-President and Commissioner responsible for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship in 1999, when she was about to take her position within the Commission headed by Romano Prodi

In her third term, she is the one of the best known Commissioners, due to her passionate statement against the stigmatisation of the Roma in France and for imposing reform on telecom operators’ roaming tariffs.

- A piece of advice for Joaquin Almunia : be more political and more aggressive in the face of attacks on the European competition policy ( of which we sometimes hear too much).

- A piece of advice for Viviane Reding : avoid implicit comparisons to World War II. It may offend some ministers and some heads of state. Be calm. Take a deep breath before you speak. But go ahead, talk. 3. Neelie Kroes : a digital machine

A business and political woman, Neelie Kroes is a machine. Despite a late start (her knowledge of the issues and challenges was so poor that it was not even certain that her appointment would be confirmed by European Parliament), the European Commissioner for Digital Agenda is holding her own. At first she was not enthusiastic about going from being Commissioner for Competition (with a few well-chosen clashes here and there) and from attending board meetings of large Dutch companies, to promoting the Internet for pensioners or having debates about roaming.

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But the Vice-President of the Commission took to it like a duck to water : she mastered various methods of communication perfectly (blogs, social networks) and made of them a sharp weapon, as when she reacted furiously to a message sent by a telecom operator who was apparently unfamiliar with the EU regulation on roaming. 2010 was an eventful year for the Dutch Commissioner thanks to the presentation of an ambitious digital agenda and the continued pursuit of many debates and initiatives undertaken earlier (Telecom Package, roaming, net neutrality).

- A tip : Try to look more awake and do not get pushed around by your colleagues (especially on sensitive issues such as property rights). After all, you are also Vice-President of the Commission.

Making progress

Michel Barnier : enthusiasm and waffle

Michel Barnier is full of good will and that’s why the Euros like him. In France, the Gaullist camp, he is a passionate, fully paid-up European, which is quite rare. Michel Barnier has surrounded himself with the best people, hiring a special advisor who is a former Communist MEP (Philippe Herzog, founder of the economic think tank Confrontations Europe) and he is also a trusted friend of Nicolas Sarkozy, a fact amazing enough to deserve a mention.

This is not the first time that Michel Barnier has held ministerial office, since he was Commissioner for Regional Policy under Romano Prodi between 1999 and 2004 and has also been Minister of the Environment, European Affairs, Foreign Affairs and finally Agriculture in France.

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Michel Barnier, Commissioner for Internal Market and Services

In 2010, he managed to win one of the best posts at the European Commission, Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, despite his nationality (according to an old adage, the French are sceptical about the internal market) and his relative ignorance of economic and financial affairs. Something else amazing enough to be mentioned.

These defects have proved a help though, as well as a hinderance : his lack of financial knowledge allows him to see the big picture, his political pragmatism has prevented him from hurtling unchecked into ultra-liberalism or from implementing a dangerous regulation, his faith gives him a European compass useful against Anglo-Saxon financial lobbies reluctant to trust a Frenchy. Even if he does not know the details of all the dossiers he must manage, he still succeeds in approving a large package of legislation : from the dossier on reform of financial supervision, to the directive on hedge funds, to the Insurance Intermediation Directive in the revival of the single market, Michel Barnier is undoubtedly in his element.

- A Tip : Your English is appalling, make an effort ! In addition, be careful not to repeat the same things (« We will not exit this crisis in the same way as we entered it, » « a Commissioner is a politician and not an official » “I hope that the anniversary of the single market is an opportunity for renewal”, etc. ..). Waffling too much about inconsequential things will lead to you dropping behind.

Dacian Cioloş : the field is clear

The job of Dacian Cioloş, European Commissioner for Agriculture, is not easy as European agriculture is going through hard times. His predecessor, Mariann Fischer Boel, did not hold the CAP close to her heart. And the debate on the future of the CAP quickly turned into a sterile confrontation between environmentalists, mass producers, farmers, free traders, protectionists and advocates of the end of the CAP. The European fields were battlefields. Although he has been regarded for a long time as being in Paris’ pocket, Dacian Cioloş, former Romanian Minister (and perfect French speaker) showed that he was independent from capitals as well as from corporate interests.

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Dacian Ciolos, Commissioner for Agriculture, likes pomegrenate

He was also able to show that he knew his portfolio perfectly : it must be noted that the Commissioner has worked with the Romanian Ministry of Agriculture and the DG for Agriculture of the European Commission. As well as being competent, he showed a real desire to move forward with ambition and pragmatism on the extremely complex and controversial issue concerning the future of European agriculture. But this matter will not be discussed before 2011... so Dacian Cioloş could not demonstrate the full extent of his diplomatic skills.

- A tip : Establish yourself, go on the offensive, and make your voice heard. The CAP needs reform to survive.

Catherine Ashton : a Cinderella story

Despite the fact that Catherine Ashton was the European Commissioner for Trade in the previous College (of Commissioners), at first she appeared to be completely inexperienced in world diplomacy and in the mechanisms of the European Union, returning to London every weekend at the beginning of her term. Strike one.

Despite the fact that Catherine Ashton was, for many years, leader of the Labour party in the House of Lords she at first appeared to be completely helpless against the European Parliament’s political attacks. Strike two.

Despite the fact that Catherine Ashton comes from a large European country (the United Kingdom) and was a part of strong governments, she appeared to be swept aside, firstly, by the President of the Commission during the appointment of the EU representative in Washington and secondly by the European Council during the EU’s low reactivity after the earthquakes in Haiti. Strike three.

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But she was not out. Progressively, Ashton learned. Her authority and experience are growing along with her network. She was able to set up the European External Action on time, in spite of huge debate amongst the Parliament, Council and Commission. She was able to recruit the best people for her entourage. Her relationship with MEPs is calmer and richer than the usual occasional placatory speech. There may be a few apron strings still tying her to Whitehall but, undoubtedly, she is making up for it... despite a few blunders or failures. One day perhaps, « Miss Nobody » (as nicknamed by former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt) will become a true master of world diplomacy.

- A Tip : Learn more German and French (why not join up with your pals Barnier and Oettinger ?), watch less West Wing, hire a private plane and think carefully before speaking.

The dunce’s cap

Karel De Gucht : a mess

The portfolio given to him was immense : Trade. But the diplomacy required for this position does not figure prominently in this Commissioner’s profile. He seems to be more concerned about the politics of his own country, Belgium, than the revival of trade negotiations. Not to mention his proposals, or rather, limitations, on the “World Jewish lobby”.

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Karel de Gucht : Commissioner for Trade and his great communication skills

- A Tip : smile, be friendly and love life and people a bit more.

José Manuel Barroso : the doormat

The president ad infinitum of the European Commission is not the primus inter pares, which was dear to Delors. He would rather be the ultimus sub pares. Contrary to his job description, the President from Portugal does not propose strategic visions for the future of the Union and does not express his opinion against the Member States that breach the treaties and do not protect the common European interest. Undoubtedly he confuses the latter with the added interests of France, Germany, United Kingdom and Portugal. With José Manuel Barroso, the College of Commissioners has become a vulgar COREPER 0 or -1 (COREPER or the Committee of Permanent Representatives is a Committee of Ambassadors responsible for preparing the Council’s work, where member states are represented).

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José Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission since 2005, has a tiny bike

Under Barroso there is no more debate at the Commission. We don’t decide on much. Trade-offs are formed at the bottom. The president’s authority does not count for very much. He only speaks up a bit when issues are too serious (France and the Roma case) or when the interests of his country are at risk (Germany’s plans to cut regional funds). For the rest, the Commission is the doormat on which the big states wipe their feet.

- A Tip : We’re still looking.

Antonio Tajani : absent

Sending a ‘Berlusconian’ to the European Commission was without a doubt a bad idea. But do not worry : Antonio Tajani is not often in Brussels. He spends most of his time in Italy. As for his portfolios (European industrial policy, industry and entrepreneurship), they are almost as absent at a European level as he is himself. Apart from when his favourite subjects feature (tourism, support efficiency and Galileo, all works in progress),

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Antonio Tajani, the Commission’s vice-president for Industry and Entrepreneurship during a visit to Brussels

Antonio Tajani is conspicuously absent. On the other hand, it might be better if he is absent given that when present he focuses on promoting the poisonous stances of his mentor Silvio Berlusconi (the questionable law on freedom of press in Italy, the environmental situation in Campania, the DG Competition decision regarding the TV channel Sky’s access within the Italian network)...to the detriment of European interests.

- A Tip : Permanently take up your passion for tourism and go to the West Indies. Give your position to a more experienced veteran. (maybe Mario Monti ?)

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3 septembre 2012
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Directrice du développement Groupe, coordinatrice des rédactions

Après un Master en communication et négociation internationale à l’Université de Provence, et un Master en Journalisme politique et communication institutionnelle à l’international à l’Institut d’Etudes Politiques d’Aix-en-Provence, Maha a rejoint le (...)



Recently graduated from the London School of Economics where she obtained an MSc in European Studies : Ideas & Identities, Marilia intends to work in the European Commission as a translator. In 2008 she gained her BA in French and Italian (...)



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