Initially scheduled for 1st November 2019, the entry into office of the new Commission was postponed due to the rejection by the European Parliament of several candidates for the posts of Commissioner. The candidacies of the conservative László Trócsányi, former Victor Orban’s Justice Minister to the post of Enlargement Commissioner, and that of the socialist Rovana Plumb, former Romanian Minister for the Transport portfolio, were rejected due to likely conflicts of interest. The rejection of Sylvie Goulard’s candidacy, former French Minister of the Armed Forces suggested by Emmanuel Macron for the post of Commissioner for the Internal Market, appeared to be the peak of an institutional crisis marked by the confrontation between the European Parliament and the Council over key appointments in the Commission.
By forcing Hungary, Romania and France to put forward new candidates, the European Parliament has demonstrated that it does not intend to act as a registration chamber and the affirmation of its independence goes hand in hand with a better consideration of its opinions. The Parliament's approval of the College of Commissioners on 27th November is certainly a sign of the easing of tensions, but this unprecedented institutional battle has made it necessary to rethink the appointment process at the European level. This is precisely the purpose of the Conference on the Future of Europe, announced by the President of the Commission and supported by Paris and Berlin, who in a joint declaration called on the Union to initiate, as early as February 2020, a reflecting process on the functioning of the institutions – envisaging the possibility of drawing up transnational lists and revising European treaties.
Led by Commission Vice-President Dubravka Šuica, the Conference on the Future of Europe involves European institutions’ representatives and should enable European citizens to be more closely involved in the reform process. However, this conference cannot solve the main short-term challenge posed to the Commission by the Parliament.
The political fragmentation of the European Parliament and the absence of a coalition between the different political groups deprives the executive of a real majority. The Commission will therefore have to deal with the forces at work and reach a new consensus on each of its proposals. Demonstrating its ability to win MEPs’ support is thus the first challenge facing the Commission, which has committed to presenting a series of flagship measures during its first 100 days in office.
The Commission's new commitments
In her general policy speech to Parliament on the eve of her inauguration as Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen expressed her desire to give Europe a Commission with real political ambition. By taking up the "100 days" concept, a period during which the newly elected government enjoys a state of grace to fulfil its campaign promises and at the end of which it agrees to be judged, Ursula von der Leyen is bringing to the European level a political concept hitherto reserved for national politics.
In its first 100 days after taking office, the new Commission has committed to presenting four ambitious reform projects:
- a Green Deal for Europe, the first European climate legislation anchoring in law the objective of climate neutrality by 2050;
- the introduction of binding measures on pay transparency to combat pay inequalities between men and women;
- the definition of a coordinated European approach to the human and ethical implications of artificial intelligence and;
- the establishment of a fair minimum wage for all workers in the Union.
Protection of the environment, defence of gender equality, management of the digital revolution and the promotion of social justice are thus the fundamental pillars of a Europe that does not merely react to crises, but now wishes to chart its own course.
The first project is undoubtedly the European New Green Deal, which has been presented on Wednesday 11 December at the COP25 in Madrid. Led by Dutch Vice-President Frans Timmermans, this commitment by the Commission should enable Europe to become the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050. A number of measures are to be proposed to achieve this objective, ranging from the reduction of free allowances allocated to the aviation sector to the revision of the directive on energy taxation; from the introduction of a strategy for the hydrogen economy to the presentation of a new plan for the circular economy; from the integration of environmental criteria into future trade agreements to the definition of a new framework for green finance. This set of ambitious measures covers also the use of pesticides and chemicals, a "farm to fork" strategy for more sustainable food and a major reforestation plan for Europe.