The European Parliament gave the green light to Ursula von der Leyen’s college of Commissioners at its session in Strasbourg on 27 November with a comfortable 461 votes in favour, 151 against and 89 abstentions. The new 27-member Commission – 12 women and 15 men – will finally be able to start work officially on 1 December 2019. Their start date had to be postponed by one month after the European Parliament had rejected the original candidates from France, Hungary and Romania. Replacement candidates were interviewed for their job by the European Parliament and approved in mid-November. The UK has declined to nominate a Commissioner on the grounds that they are not in a position to do so during the pre-election period.
Von der Leyen’s Commission will have three executive vice-presidents in Frans Timmermans, Margrethe Vestager and Valdis Dombrokvskis. They will also serve as regular Commissioners, not just coordinators. There will also be five regular vice-presidents: Josep Borrell, Věra Jourová, Margaritis Schinas, Maroš Šefčovič and Dubravka Šuica.
Interestingly, the Bulgarian Commissioner, Mariya Gabriel, who will be responsible for the implementation of the new research and innovation programme, Horizon Europe, has now had her official portfolio title extended to Research, Innovation, Education, Culture & Youth. The earlier version did not explicitly include “research” which had raised many an eyebrow in European R&D circles.
Another portfolio title which had caused controversy among MEPs was Margaritis Schinas’s “Protecting Our European Way of Life” covering migration affairs, culture and sport. Mrs von der Leyen bowed to continued pressure from parliamentarians, who considered that it reflected right-wing tendencies, and agreed to change the word “protecting” to “promoting”.
The flagship policy of Ursula von der Leyen’s European Commission will no doubt be its European Green Deal, a blueprint of which is expected within its first 100 days in office. A centrepiece of this policy is for Europe to become the world’s first climate-neutral continent by 2050 and important components and enablers include the first European Climate Law, an extension of the Emissions Trading System (to include shipping and extend coverage of air traffic), a Carbon Border Tax, more emphasis on the Circular Economy, a Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and last but not least a Sustainable Europe Investment Plan of €1 trillion.