Juncker's restructuring of the European Commission

Summary Last week, the President-elect of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, announced his new team of Commissioners. But nothing is set in stone until the Commissioners-designate have gone through a Parliamentary hearing in week 40. One thing is certain: The Commission’s organisational structure will, at least on paper, look vastly different from previous Commissions. The biggest innovation is that the Vice Presidents will have more of a leading role in the Commission. In particular, they will each be in charge of a project team that the other 20 Commissioners will refer to.
The project teams are based on the priorities Jean-Claude Juncker presented to the European Parliament during his hearing in July, including the aspiration to develop an energy union and a digital internal market. The idea behind creating project teams is to strengthen the coordination between the Commission’s different political areas and focus the Commission’s work on a number of core priorities. The Vice Presidents’ roles will be to set guidelines for what their project team of Commissioners will focus on within the framework of Juncker’s political guidelines.
In this memo, Think Tank EUROPA puts the spotlight on the President’s power. We take a closer look at how the President’s role has changed over time and compare Juncker’s restructuring of the Commission with past practice. The memo shows that the establishment of Commissioner groups is not a new concept, as the former President of the Commission, José Manuel Barroso, also tried to gather Commissioners into groups – but without great success. It is too early to tell whether Juncker’s teams of Commissioners will function as planned. For instance, it is unclear how the Vice Presidents will deal with conflicts within their Commissioner clusters and whether they are prepared to lead them without having a Directorate-General behind them.

Main conclusion
  • Juncker’s restructuring of the European Commission aims to counter the criticism Barroso was subject to, based on the perception that the Commission was being controlled by the President at the expense of collegiality.
  • Forming clusters of Commissioner teams, each managed by one of the Vice Presidents, will serve to both centralise and decentralise power in the Commission. The management structure will become more collective, whilst the restructuring will follow Juncker’s political priorities.
  • The Vice Presidents’ power will be strengthened considerably, as they will have to approve initiatives from Commissioners in their teams and decide who will represent the Commission externally.
  • The Commissioner teams are not new creations. They also existed in the Barroso-led Commission. But they look significantly different from the previous groups on paper, as they have been given a more formal status with the Vice Presidents at the helm being responsible for their coordination.

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