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Looking to the challenges ahead for the next European Commission

The commissioners’ next period of tenure will be fraught with the British ‘new settlement, the closing stage of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the unsolved problem of Turkey, the competition with Russia over the Ukraine, the energy and environmental dilemmas and the prospect of a new treaty on ‘more Europe’. It is not such a gravy train after all – says our secret columnist in Brussels Schadenfreude

After the coming European Parliament elections, the Council of Ministers nominates a new president of the European Commission. The nominee is then elected, or not, by the EP. The majority political representation in the parliament will want to support its own choice, who may not be the nominee. In the negative case, the council has to come up with a new candidate for president.

The current incumbent comes from the southern part of the European Union. The new candidate should preferably come from the northern part, so goes the maxim. Once the president is elected, each of the 27 member states – excluding the new president’s homeland – proposes its candidate subject to agreement with the incoming president. The candidates appear individually before the EP to give an account of their ideas about the future work of the commission and the union. The parliament votes them in on a single slate, or not. If not, the procedure starts again.

The candidates are usually drawn from the political communities in their homeland – usually but not invariably, with previous involvement in EU affairs – formerly with usable French, not now a serious requirement. Membership of the commission usually marks the end of involvement in national politics – which might be a factor in the choice. The job is financially attractive.

Some serving commissioners are usually given another term. Sadly the rule of one commissioner per member state has not been changed in time for the coming appointments. For 28 is way too many. The change will have to come next time around.

Commissioners talked about as possible survivors include Slim Kallas, who has been working hard on integrating transport. Olli Rehn is another with his work on economic affairs and the active Michel Barnier on single marketry is also a favourite. The British commissioner Catherine Ashton had a difficult start taking charge of the new and untested European External Action Service.

But she won plaudits for her leadership of the early rounds of European Union-United States negotiations with Iran. The Baroness would be a good option for the next commission. A natural extension would solve the British Prime Minister David Cameron’s mind-bending choice between a moderate pro and a moderate anti – with partisan feelings on either side. If re-appointed, she would probably have to change portfolio to make room for a commissioner of another nationality to take over foreign affairs – the plum job.

Manifestly, the commissioners with responsibilities for economic and financial matters should come from one of the eurozone countries, which rules the British out. Good luck to them all. Their period of tenure will be fraught – the British ‘new settlement, the closing stage of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the unsolved problem of Turkey, the competition with Russia over the Ukraine, the energy and environmental dilemmas and the prospect of a new treaty on ‘more Europe’. It is not such a gravy train after all.

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