Memo

Profile of the modern commissioner

Den moderne kommissær Connie Hedegaard

Summary The Danish government will soon reveal who it will send to Brussels as Denmark’s new EU Commissioner for the next five years. The media brought many names into play this summer, but we still do not know which one the government will choose. One thing is certain: Regardless who the Danish government appoints, the game for the Commissioner’s post is far from over. Both the Commission’s President-elect, Jean-Claude Juncker, and the newly elected European Parliament have to give the green light before the Commissioners’ posts are appointed. It is not certain whether the Commissioners, that the EU heads of state or the government leaders will suggest, will make it through hearings in the Parliament. Nor can it be assumed that they will be granted the Commissioner’s post they want.
 
In this paper, the EUROPA think tank sheds light on the profile of the “modern Commissioner”, as well as the “hiring process” new Commissioners must go through before they can secure a place in the Commission.
 
The paper shows that the appointment of EU Commissioners has become more and more political over the years – both when it applies to who is elected to the post and to the European Parliament’s democratic control over the Commissioners. The Commission has become less technocratic and more political. Today Commissioners are not only chosen on the basis of their administrative experience from, for example, having previously held senior civil servant positions. Their political actions in relation to their national governments and the European Parliament also come into play.
 
68% of the newly appointed Commissioners have backgrounds as Ministers, 54% as members of their national parliaments and 25% as members of the European Parliament.
 
The Parliament has a key role when it comes to sending individual Commissioners to hearing prior to the Parliament’s final approval of the Commission. This has changed the dynamic between the Commission and the Parliament. The Parliament’s increased influence on the election of the Commission combined with the Parliament’s power to dismiss it has strengthened the EU’s democratic legitimacy – at least when it comes to the elected parliamentarians’ control of the Commission, this paper shows.

Main conclusion
  • The Commissioners’ profiles are less technocratic and more political than they have ever been. 68% of the sitting Commissioners boast a history as a Minister, while 54% have been a member of their national parliament.
  • 86% Commissioners are from the same party as the government that nominated them. Governments typically elect a candidate who has made a particularly positive impression on the party’s leadership and has proven their worth through their parliamentary work.
  • The democratic control of the Commission has been tightened because the Parliament has gained greater influence on the appointing of Commissioners and more control over their daily work. This strengthens the Commission’s democratic legitimacy, as the parliamentarians have better opportunities to control the executive power the Commission represents in the EU.
  • The Commissioners’ work is increasingly influenced by values such as political sensitivity and responsibility for the elected representatives.
  • The Commissioners were previously subjected exclusively to collective responsibility, which functioned as a shield against accusations of bias. But since 2005, when the President was given the power to dismiss individual Commissioners, the Commissioners have now become individually responsible. This means that Parliament can put pressure on the President of the Commission to dismiss individual Commissioners.
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