The Juncker Game: the pieces are in place, but do the players know the rules?

10 Sep 2014, keywords :

Jean-Claude Juncker, president designate of the European Commission, has revealed (10 September) his much-awaited portfolio designation among the future potential College of Commissioners. With different political priorities and various project teams with team leaders, the new structure takes the shape of a complicated board game. Although certainly based on a good intention of enhancing effectiveness, CESI Secretary General Klaus Heeger asks if anyone is really sure of the rules of the game and the competences of the players?

The Juncker Game: the pieces are in place, but do the players know the rules?

Following weeks of rumours and backroom negotiations and a series of interviews with each Member State’s candidates, Jean-Claude Juncker had the sensitive task of playing with portfolios, traditionally depending on experience and expertise, and establishing some new rules.

Firstly, the political experience of many of the players in Juncker’s new game is impressive. With no less than 5 former Prime Ministers, 4 former Deputy Prime Ministers, 3 former Foreign Ministers and 10 others having held ministerial rank at one point in their careers, the growing trend is for Member States to send highly experienced candidates.

Secondly, Juncker would have liked to have seen some more women playing. With only 9 female Commissioners, the “ten or more” campaign from current Commissioners fell short, leaving a more disappointing result for gender balance. Juncker himself has said “it is not an advance, but it’s not a step-back.”

Thirdly, this game looks more hierarchical. There are team captains. Six vice presidents have been designated a broader portfolio and will have a “team-leading” role over Commissioners responsible for a more specific portfolio. For example, Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, responsible for the broader brief of the Euro and Social affairs will work closely with Pierre Moscovici, the Commissioner in charge of economic affairs, with the Employment and Social Affairs Commissioner, Marianne Thyssen, as well as with the Commissioners in charge of Regional Policy, Education and Consumers. The Vice Presidents will act as filters for the political priorities, ensuring any Commission action is coordinated, first among the project “teams” and then with the College as a whole.

Despite the fact that teams for projects  may be more apt in delivering results, a general confusion with the definition, distinction and delimitation (both vertically and horizontally) of portfolios and competences may result in an altogether confusing game. The likelihood here is that there will be some rule-bending in the new game, as time passes and practice wins out to theory.

Fourthly, Juncker has undoubtedly rewarded high ranking players. The fact that Commissioners from smaller and newer Member States (such as Estonia and Latvia) may have such a pronounced higher ranking position within the Commission than Commissioners from the traditional big players may lead to frictions.

For CESI, this may mean a positive shift of power to new and imaginative forces. However, I personally raise my concerns on two particular fronts: on the one hand, I have strong reservations over the absolute pro-austerity past of some of the players. A number of the new Commissioners have been leaders of austerity campaigns in their own countries, with disregard to the negative and harmful social impact these measures would have.  A more balanced approach to austerity is not something which has changed but which must change.

On the other hand, it is not only important that the players understand the rules, but it is more crucial than ever than those watching understand: namely, citizens. How the new European Commission will communicate its policies and positions, how close will it be to citizens, especially in times of euro scepticism, are crucial points to look out for.

There will undoubtedly be some teething problems, this much is sure. The reorganisation into political priorities and project “teams” looks more complicated and will take time to take shape. In working in practice, the new Commission must be even more open and more transparent in how it operates in order to enhance credibility and trust.


An example of one of Jean-Claude Juncker’s “political projects” involving several different players © European Commission


Mr Juncker admitted the new structure is a shake-up and that it has not been easy to compose the new team. Indeed, this shake-up could make or break the new Commission before it has been allowed to start work. While the pieces of this game are preparing to be put in place, does anyone really fully understand the rules?

Games aside, there is potential for serious change. Junkcer’s Commission has a lot of potential to succeed and to break from the past in terms of one-sided austerity and broken relations with social partners.

In any case, CESI welcomes a team captain dedicated to the Euro and Social Dialogue. This broad portfolio hopefully marks a strong signal from President Juncker to his dedication to rebuild social dialogue. In his July hearing in front of MEPs, Mr Juncker said he wanted to be the President of Social Dialogue. Today’s revelations at least show there will be a Vice President of Social Dialogue.

Before the new Commissioners are fully installed, MEPs, many of whom share our concerns, will question the candidates, testing their commitment and expertise of their designated portfolio.

The new Commission in full:

 President of the European Commission – Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker

Vice President for Budget and Human Resources –Bulgaria , Kristalina Georgieva

Vice President for Digital Single Market – Estonia, Andrus Ansip

Vice President for the Euro and Social Dialogue – Latvia, Valdis Dombrovskis

Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness– Finland, Jyrki Katainen

Vice President for Energy Union – Slovenia, Alenka Bratusek

Vice President for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights – Netherlands, Frans Timmermans

High Representative for Foreign policy (and VP) – Italy, Federica Mogherini

Regional policy – Romania, Corina Cretu

Trade – Sweden, Cecilia Malmstrom

Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality – Czech Republic, Vera Jourova

Competition – Denmark, Margarethe Vestager

Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union – UK, Lord Jonathan Hill

Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurs, and SMEs – Poland, Elżbieta Bieńkowska

Education, Youth, Culture and Citizenship – Hungary, Tibor Navracsics

Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management – Cyprus, Chrystos Stylianides

Migration, and home affairs – Greece, Dimitris Avermaopoulos

Agriculture and Rural Developement- Ireland, Phil Hogan

Digital Economy and Society – Germany, Guenther Oettinger

Climate Action and Energy – Spain, Miguel Arias Canete

Employment, Social affairs, Skills and Labour Mobility – Belgium, Marianne Thyssen

Research, Science and Innovation – Portugal, Carlos Moedas

International Cooperation and Development– Croatia, Neven Mimica

Economic and Financial affairs, Taxation and Customs – France, Pierre Moscovici

Transport and Space – Slovakia, Maros Sefcovic

Neighborhood policy and Enlargement Negotiations – Austria, Johannes Hahn

Environment, Maratime Affairs and Fisheries – Malta, Karmenu Vella

Health and food safety – Lithuania, Vyentis Andriukaitis