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EU BYTES


the new date when, hopefully, Von der Leyen will officially get her seat at the helm.


And the situation is not smoother within


the new Collége either, where Von der Leyen’s surprise appointment of a conservative, Valdis Dombrovskis, as a third Executive Vice-President, along with Frans Timmermans (Social Democrat) and Margrethe Vestager (Renew Europe – i.e. Liberal), shifted the political balance of power of the Commission back again in the EPP’s (centre-right) hand. Bitter irony for Timmermans, who got very close to snatch the Commission Presidency in July, to be now leading the incumbent Commission in its caretaker role likely until the end of the mandate, as Juncker has to leave Brussels for a planned surgery.


Breton and the Internal Market


In the meantime, MEPs are preparing for the next round of hearings of the three remaining candidates; while the UK has still to provide a name. Amongst those facing scrutiny soon: Adina-Ioana Va


˘lean, current Chair of the


Industry, Research & Energy Committee, for the transport portfolio; Olivér Várhelyi, Hungary’s choice for the Neighbourhood and Enlargement portfolio; and Thierry Breton, CEO of tech firm Atos and former Finance Minister, nominated by Macron after Goulard’s fiasco to claim the Internal Market portfolio. The French president counts on Breton’s expertise in the digital field, his managerial skills and EU credentials (with past leadership of many Franco-German industrial projects and personal acquaintance with Von der Leyen during her mandate as German Defence Minister) to deliver a new era of EU digitalised industrial policies and a reinvigorated EU defence plan. But what was behind Goulard’s rejection in


the first place? On one side, her pending investigation on fund misuse and her collateral activities while being MEP played a crucial role in the European Parliament’s assessment. On the other, some deemed the proposed portfolio, which adds digital space


space and defence policy agenda. Not an easy mandate, even for a candidate with a strong managerial curriculum such as Breton. As with Goulard, MEPs will want to know how the future Commissioner will be able to balance different priorities and effectively address issues of specific policy areas with such a broad portfolio.


Justice


and defence policy to the Internal Market dimension, as too big, meaning too important in political and budgetary terms to be assigned to a single Commissioner. Eventually, many did not fail to taste what some would call the cold vendetta served to Macron’s ambitions at EU level. Given such precedents, Breton’s hearing on 14 November will very likely see intense scrutiny by MEPs. First, the conflict of interest dimension. As


has already happened in previous hearings, MEPs are keen to thoroughly assess the compatibility between Breton’s role as CEO of Atos and the Internal Market post, despite the Frenchman having already stepped down from several managerial positions and committed to sell all his Atos shares if confirmed as Commissioner. Still, it’s not clear how he would deal with regulatory initiatives impacting Atos while heading the Commission’s digital department. The relevant committee is assessing Breton’s CV and financial declarations on November 12 to give the green light for the actual hearing with Members of the European Parliament. Secondly, the mission assigned by Von der


Leyen entails a wide range of activities for Commissioner-designate Breton: from enhancing the EU’s “digital sovereignty” (think about cybersecurity, R&I on artificial intelligence and new technologies) to strengthening the internal market dimension on issues such as SMEs competitiveness, protection of intellectual property, the fight against foreign subsidies; adding to this, the


Waiting on the sidelines: Commissioner-designate for Justice, Didier Reynders. Despite a somehow uncertain status ahead of his confirmation hearing due to his involvement in a corruption probe by public prosecutors in Belgium, Reynders managed to pass MEPs’ scrutiny without need of a second round of questioning. With several high-level posts in successive Belgian federal governments on his curriculum, Didier Reynders is called to work under the guidance of the Vice-President for Values and Transparency (incumbent Commissioner for Justice, Vera Jourova) with support from the Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers. Von der Leyen’s specifically asks Reynders to uphold the rule of law in the Union, working on the comprehensive European Rule of Law Mechanism and ensuring tighter enforcement of EU rules. The consumer protection and Justice dimensions are at the centre of his mission: From facilitating and improving judicial cooperation between EU Member States and supporting the setting-up of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office – to which Romanian Laura Kovesi has finally been appointed – to ensuring the implementation of GDPR (data protection) and the development of sustainable company law for SMEs. Notably, anti-money laundering does not explicitly figure in Von der Leyen’s mission letter to Reynders, even though member states have until 10 January 2020 to transpose the fifth Anti-Money Laundering Directive into national legislation.


Greetings from Brussels.


NOVEMBER 2019 29


artjazz/Adobe Stock


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