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The Juncker Commission past midterm: Does the new setup work?

European Commission / DISCUSSION PAPER
Paul Ivan

Date: 18/10/2017
To improve the ability of the European Commission to tackle the challenges faced by the European Union, President Juncker has introduced organisational and institutional changes in the Commission. With the Juncker Commission more than halfway through its mandate, this Discussion paper takes stock of the ways in which the introduced innovations have changed the way the Brussels executive works.

In a nutshell, Paul Ivan draws the following conclusions:

  • The innovations introduced by the Juncker Commission have partially dealt with the institution’s “inability to prioritise”.
  • The current setup with more powerful Vice-Presidents also streamlined and brought more focus to the Commission, also adding a stronger steer from above.
  • This more political Commission has also witnessed a centralisation of the decision-making process and a widening distance between the top leadership of the Commission and its services. This has contributed to a sense of demoralisation among the Commission staff.
  • The last years have seen an increased role and political influence of the member states. Although the Juncker Commission is active in the defence of its interest when interacting with the other EU institutions and the member states, there is room for further improvement, so that the Commission does not become a mere secretariat for the member states.
  • The reduction of spokespeople talking for/on behalf of the Commission has made communication more consistent by reducing the cacophony of different voices speaking in the name of the Commission. It has also limited the ability of the institution to communicate its activities and has decreased the number of contact points for external stakeholders to talk to, thus making engagement with the Commission more bureaucratic and less direct and interactive.
In a nutshell, Paul Ivan makes the following recommendations:

  • The next Commission will need to further clarify the role of Vice-Presidents, refine the distribution of portfolios and allocation of resources to consolidate the efficiency gains.
  • The future Commission President should focus on achieving a more even distribution of portfolios, which should be accompanied by a better distribution of human resources in the cabinets, but also within the Commission more generally.
  • The Commission services need to be re-engaged and used in the matters in which they are specialised. The regular meetings that the Commissioners hold with the leadership of their services should become in all cases more than a formal ritual. The political nature of future Commissions will depend on the continued link with the outcome of the European elections, the so-called Spitzenkandidaten process introduced in 2014. Abandoning this connection would send the wrong message to European citizens regarding the legitimacy of the European Commission.
  • The reinforcement of the political character of the Commission has also made increasingly evident the more technocratic/regulatory parts of the Commission’s activities, thus also leading to more calls to make a clearer separation between the two.

Read the full paper here

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