Von der Leyen's proposed Commission neither social nor green
Incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has unveiled the proposed portfolios of the nominees for the commissioner positions.
They have not been appointed yet, however, as the European Parliament must still make the final decision on each of them.
But when we look into the incoming Commission, it is obvious that von der Leyen’s focus is to make the EU more prepared for the struggles to come in international relations. She wants to position the EU as the world’s third geopolitical player on par with China and the USA.
Her priority is to make the EU compatible for international competition in different areas: economy, digitalisation, setting international rules, military power….
GUE-NGL is not blind to the challenges of a 21st century international system. However, we oppose the EU’s aim to become a global player, rather than as a fair, civil partner for third countries.
Indeed, we demand no further militarisation of the EU – and certainly no money from the EU budget for military purposes.
Reacting to the nominees, GUE/NGL Co-President Manon Aubry said:
With some portfolio titles like ‘European Green Deal’ and ‘An Economy that Works for People’, the nominated commissioners sound like they might work in the interests of citizens and the planet, but as GUE/NGL Co-President Martin Schirdewan observes:
He also described this as “a Commission with a quota but without a vision“. Schirdewan took aim at the Austrian commissioners-elect Johannes Hahn who failed spectacularly in the Neighbourhood brief and yet, somehow, has been rewarded with a new job in charge of budgets.
In fact, Aubry pointed out that one third of the commission will come from the existing Juncker cabinet, albeit with a new German conservative at the top.
MORE TRANSPARENCY NEEDED
In his new post, Hahn must deal with the fight against fraud and conflicts of interests. He must resume the publication of the annual anti-corruption report and to engage in a serious anti-corruption policy.
There also needs to be stronger measures to improve the ethics and integrity of the Commission, and this includes setting up an EU lobby transparency register, so that Commissioner, Members of the cabinets and any other European civil servants for whom he will be responsible for will only deal with registered lobbies.
Finally, the procedures for nomination and appointments of senior officials must be more transparent – especially for the Commission’s Secretary-General.
Frans Timmermans has been tasked with the Europe Green Deal – but how is he going to finance it? We can’t have more market-based solutions, as favoured by the Commission. We need a Just Transition. Implementing the Green New Deal will require heavy structural changes in all levels of society and many of the failed, market-based measures just won’t do. There needs to be a regulatory approach by, for example, integrating and enhancing emissions reduction targets into the scope of the Industrial Emissions Directive.
In addition, protein transition must form part of the European climate policy. Rather than spending millions in promoting meat, Timmermans must recognise a move towards a more plant-based diet is needed to save our planet.
BIG PHIL’S BIG FIGHTS
One of the most high profile Commissioners this term will surely be Ireland’s Phil Hogan. Formerly in charge of agriculture – during which he managed to antagonise every Irish MEP in GUE/NGL – he is set to take over the trade brief from Cecilia Malmström.
In his last job, he worked closely with the big agribusiness lobbyists and this will foreshadow what is to come in his dealing on international trade. A number of small and middle EU agricultural sectors were sacrificed by his policies whilst big EU agribusiness invaded and destroyed less developed economies elsewhere.
Indeed, top of Hogan’s in-trays will be Mercosur and Brexit – and he can expect strong challenges from the Left group in the European Parliament on both counts:
GOULARD UNDER A CLOUD
But the nominee that is most eye-catching for Manon Aubry is Sylvie Goulard for the internal market portfolio. With an ongoing investigation by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) into alleged misuse of EU funds whilst she was an MEP, the French nominee was being interviewed by the police on Tuesday.
Even without this crminal scandal, however, Aubry points out that Goulard’s past as a lobbyist for German banks was enough to undermine her suitability for the role:
Also under investigation from OLAF is the Polish nominee for agriculture and former MEP Janusz Wojciechowski over travel and other expenses fraud.
That’s two out of 27 commissioner-elects who might not even make it to the starting line.
Elsewhere, quoting from Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, Greek MEP Kostas Arvanitis says the commissioner-elect Margaritis Schinas’ new portfolio and ridiculously-titled ‘Protecting our European Way of Life’ smacks of populism, xenophobia and is corrosive of how European values should be.
GUE/NGL has long opposed the so-called Security Union, as the Commission sought to separate security issues from citizens’ fundamental rights. However, Schinas’s portfolio is even more problematic given that security will now be detached from justice, as well as blurring the lines between migration, asylum and security.
The Commission’s obsession with terrorism – in particular, foreign terrorists – is reflected in Schinas’s brief. It is also a continuation of the Juncker cabinet’s doctrine that ‘terrorists’ coming from non-EU countries represent the only threat to security, even though domestic and domestic far-right terrorists pose far more dangers.
More worryingly, the concept of ‘identity’ has now been brought to the forefront – albeit in a nuanced, roundabout kind of way through ‘European values’. There are two major problems with this: first, ‘identity’ has been used and abused repeatedly by the far-right, and the European Commission is now openly adopting the same identitarian rhetoric.
Secondly, Schinas’s job description includes dealing with refugees and migrants – but NOT their right to asylum or anything to do with safe, legal passage into Europe. By scapegoating foreigners and emphasising the importance of ‘European’ identity, this new von der Leyen Commission seems to be very keen on replicating far-right rhetotic.
In response to this ridiculous portfolio title, Arvanitis said:
“It seems there is no need to keep up appearances anymore. In assembling its bureau, the European Commission informs us that security, employment and educational issues in Europe are all key matters – which we have to defend against the corrosive influence of ‘aliens’”.
Equally scathing was Aubry, who tweeted:
ER…. AN ACTUAL FAR-RIGHT COMMISSIONER!!??
Not content with resorting to far-right language, up pops an actual far-right commissioner nominee!
Yes, the Hungarian candidate László Trócsányi is another massive blot on von der Leyen’s list. This Viktor Orbán-ally and Fidesz attack dog will take on the EU’s Neighbourhood and Enlargement portofilo, which means the issue of migration and external border control will certainly be part of his mandate.
As the former Minister of Justice in Hungary, it was Trócsányi’s illiberal actions which led to the European Parliament to trigger Article 7 for breaking EU rules on fundamental and democratic rights.
He was one of the chief protagonists in carrying out Orbán’s assault on judicial independence. He also criminalised Hungarian NGOs that provided legal assistance to asylum seekers, and introduced education laws that forced out , the Central European University from Budapest, attracting accusations of antisemitism.
In short, a man accused of undermining EU laws by Jean-Claude Juncker will be hired by… Juncker’s successor…..
NEW ROLE FOR MARGE
Another to survive from the Juncker cabinet is Margrethe Vestager who will now be responsible for Digitalisation and Artificial Intelligence.
Our group will focus on the social and ethical consequences of artificial intelligence, the enforcement of social regulations and consumer protection standards online. Important questions around transparency, data protection and liability in view of automatic decision making processes will also be at the forefront of our fight. Also, the regulation of online businesses in relation to their business users, consumers and workers will be one of our top priorities.
Finnish commissioners-elect Jutta Urpilainen gets the ‘International Partnerships’ portfolio but, unfortunately, readmission agreements will be included in the brief.
This is part of the Commission’s effort to use all its poltical powers and instruments in different policy areas of cooperation with third countries in order to impose the acceptance and the implementation of readmission agreements. GUE/NGL is sad that readmission agreements and their implementation should be the focus of our overall relations with third countries.
Furthermore, one of the key EU fundamental principles is ‘Policy Coherence for Development’. This means that the policy of the EU must not contradict the objectives of development policy and ultimately the obligation of eradication of poverty: from trade, security, migration, energy, environment to climate change, agriculture and fisheries.
Lastly, a binding international treaty on business and human rights must be a priority for commissioner-designate Urpilainen.
The nomination of Didier Reynders as Commissioner for Justice also raises serious concerns as the Belgian’s name came up in multiple domestic political scandals.
His portfolio will include cooperation on tackling financial crimes, yet as MEP Marc Botenga explains: “His appointment to this role is like a bad joke – during his time as Minister for Finance, his cabinet was accused of pushing for the adoption of a ‘law on criminal transactions’ which actually permits billionaires to escape trial for financial crimes”.
“Reynders’s former head of cabinet was linked to the Paradise Papers scandal because of her role as an administrator of the Ackermans & van Haaren group.”
“In essence, a man who has always looked after the protection of multinationals is put in charge of protecting consumers.”
For Helena Dalli, the Maltese nominee takes on the Equality brief. Yet, there is not a single reference to the importance of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (access to contraception, safe and legal abortion, sexuality education) in her job description. The European Parliament has already taken a clear positon on this topic and Dalli must do the same, as Spanish MEP Sira Rego tweets:
Similarly, the Istanbul Convention remains blocked in the Council, and Dalli must work to unblock it and introduce a comprehensive EU directive against violence against women during her tenure.
Lastly, Dalli’s portfolio now also comprises of a European Gender Strategy though it seems that the Commission is reluctant to use the term Gender Equality. Gender and Equality are mentioned separately in different parts of the text but not in combination. This must all change under Dalli.
On jobs, Luxembourg’s Nicolas Schmit will take the brief, and he must do more on occupational health & safety such as updating the directive on carcinogene substances, collective workers’ rights by revising the European Works Council Directive, and to promote the Social economy and public services. Likewise, the rights of mobile workers must be safeguarded.
There is no mention on the fight against the zero-hours contract in his portfolio, however.
DOWNGRADING SOCIAL DIALOGUE
Meanwhile, the Social Dialogue went to Executive Vice-President-designate Valdis Dombrovskis for the somewhat abstract portofilo of ‘An Economy that Works for People’. However, social dialogue is one of the original, core components of the European Employer associations and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). It is also written down in the EU Treaty as part of Social Policy.
This should be part of Schmit’s portfolio – not Dombrovskis.
And as for Dombrovskis’s other task, we don’t expect any new surprises. The capital markets union will remain and more deregulations for the bank. They will more or less stick with the failed economic governance tools which we reject – which is a shame. We strongly believe that banks should be more strictly regulated and no exemptions or watering down of the internatinal standard. We’ll be watching him closely in how he implements Basel III’s finalisation in the EU.
We’ll also keep a very close eye on the economic governance aspect. In particular, we’ll watch Dombrovskis’s interaction with Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni to make sure the latter does not weaken stablity and growth pact as well as EU Semester.
A BUNCH OF PHILISTINES?
German MEP Martina Michels noted with regret that von der Leyen’s cabinet will be the first since 1999 to not include a portfolio specifically on culture.
Of Bulgarian Mariya Garbiel’s return as Commissioner but this time overseeing ‘Innovation and Youth’, Michels noted drily that:
“I doubt Mariya Gabriel will play an important role in her future role in culture and education. Even as the Digital Commissioner, she had no interest in ensuring everyone’s access to culture in copyright reform.”
Cypriot MEP Niyazi Kızılyürek was equally disappointed by the lack of a specific commissioner for culture.
“Skills and adult learning which were previously in ‘Education, Culture, Youth and Sport’ have now been swallowed up by Schmit’s jobs portfolio – a clear orientation towards the labour market rather than inclusion or personal development. Meanwhile, the overview is entrusted to Greece’s Margaritis Schinas for the new and ambiguously-named ‘Protecting our European Way of Life’.”
“So, apparently, education is considered to be solely serving the markets and the economy whilst culture is seen through the lenses of creative industries, and not as an articulation of the freedom of expression.”
MORE SOLIDARITY AND COHESION – NOT LESS
On Cohesion and reforms, Portugal’s Elisa Ferreira must reaffirm the importance of solidarity and cohesion policy in order to gain GUE/NGL’s support. She must maintain and defend the budget for cohesion policy for the next budgetary period (2021-2027) at the current level.
Solidarity and cohesion policy play a crucial role in preventing economic, social, environmental and territorial disparities, especially in the EU’s most deprived areas like outermost regions and deprived urban areas.
Moreover, cohesion policy and economic governance should not be linked. Therefore, our members on the REGI committee – led by chair Younous Omarjee – have serious doubts regarding the inclusion of the Reform Support Programme and the Budgetary Instrument for Convergence and Competitiveness in the euro area into Ferreira’s portfolio.
Like most on the Parliament’s PECH committee, GUE/NGL wanted a commissioner just for fisheries. But under von der Leyen’s proposals, fisheries will come under ‘Environment and Oceans’ in Virginijus Sinkevičius’s portfolio. Meanwhile, DG MARE loses ‘state aid’ to the Competitions portfolio.
The upcoming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy is long overdue. We want more support for small scale and traditional fisheries, how it would impact socio-economically as well environmentally – or will the industrial fishing sector win again? Furthermore, we need to know how the CFP will fare under any FTAs on fishing products.
SAVE OUR TREES!
Virginijus Sinkevičius’s other tasks must be to fight against deforestation. He must ensure due diligence on products sold in EU markets have not been associated with deofrestation, ecosystem conversion and related human rights violations. He must make the ‘Stepping up EU Action to Protect and Restore the World’s Forests’ initiatuve a top priority?
In addition, the Lithuanian commissioner designatemust listen to the concerns of EU citizens! His predecessors ignored (manipulated, distorted…) more than 2 million voices in the Right2Water campaign. This cannot happen again.
For the Cypriot commissioner-elect, Stella Kyriakidou’s health brief means she must tackle the so-called parallel export of medicines, where cheaper medicines are exported from eastern EU countries but sold at higher prices in Western EU countries.
The Commission also needs a coherent approach for food policy as malnutrition and obesity increase, and our food production is destroying the planet. It had also promised a non-toxic environment strategy that has never been delivered. Citizens desperately need regulations on hazardous chemicals like endocrine disruptors.
All the nominees will face questioning in the European Parliament’s committees over the coming weeks and are expected to appear in the October session of the Parliament in Strasbourg.
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