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what’s new? a first appraisal of the juncker commission


Although still in its early phases, the Juncker Commission has already broken new ground. Not only is Jean-Claude Juncker the first Commission President to be selected by the Spitzenkandidaten process, an extra-constitutional system that has reconfigured the European Union’s institutional balance, but he has transformed the structure and operation of the College with the aim of creating a more political, and therefore more effective, Commission, and made good – so far – on his promise ‘to do better on the bigger things and be small on the small things’. This article examines this three-fold transformation. It looks at the innovations and change associated with the Juncker Commission. It considers what motivated them and how they were achieved, sets them in historical perspective, and discusses their implications for the institutions and for the European Union more broadly.

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  1. Since the creation of the EU, prime ministerial experience has become a de facto requirement for appointment to the Commission Presidency.

  2. His resignation from the premiership followed a scandal concerning the intelligence services.

  3. Barroso was prime minister of Portugal between 2002 and 2004, and leader of the opposition, 1999–2002. He was Minister for Foreign Affairs in the early 1990s, state secretary for foreign affairs 1987–1992, and state secretary for home affairs 1985–1987. Prodi was prime minister of Italy between 1996 and 1998. Santer was prime minister of Luxembourg from 1984 to 1995. He had been finance minister from 1979 to 1989.

  4. He had also held senior positions at the World Bank, the IMF and the EBRD.

  5. The ‘Spitzenkandiditaten revolution’ is the description used by Barber (2014). On the rise of the Spitzenkandidaten concept, see EPP (2014), EuroParl TV (2015). See also Westlake (2015), who argues that the adoption of the Spitzenkandidaten process to select the Commission President in 2014 had been long pre-figured and should not have come as a surprise.

  6. The Treaty of Amsterdam introduced a separate vote of approval for the member states’ nominee (new Article 214(2) EC). The Treaty of Nice changed the decision rule in the Council for the approval of all Commissioners from common accord to qualified majority voting.

  7. The relevant provision – Article 17(7) TEU – reads as follows: ‘Taking into account the elections to the European Parliament and after having held the appropriate consultations, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall propose to the European Parliament a candidate for President of the Commission. This candidate shall be elected by the European Parliament by a majority of its component members. If he does not obtain the required majority, the European Council, acting by a qualified majority, shall within 1 month propose a new candidate who shall be elected by the European Parliament following the same procedure’. Westlake contends further that the nominee only has a single change to win election by the Parliament (private correspondence).

  8. The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) chose not to select a lead candidate.

  9. Britain had blocked the nomination of Jean-Luc Dehaene in 1994 and Guy Verhofstadt in 2004.

  10. For Juncker’s priorities, see, accessed 5 January 2016.

  11. See Kocharov (2014). For earlier examples of competence maximizing on the part of the European Parliament, see Hix (2002). On how the European Parliament’s rise and rise differs from national parliaments, see Schimmelfennig (2014).

  12. Grant (2014) argues, for example, that it does not offer a genuine choice.

  13. Only one debate involved all five, but three involved four and Juncker participated in nine, including with Schultz.

  14. Barroso, for example, had insisted in the wake of the ‘big bang’ enlargement that Commissioners from new and old member states would be equal.

  15. The President-elect’s transition team was headed by Martin Selmayr, previously head of Vice-President Reding’s cabinet and campaign manager for Juncker’s presidency bid, and included Clara Martínez Alberola, who has served in President Barroso’s cabinet, Natasha Bertaud, who was press officer to Juncker during his campaign, and Luc Tholoniat, previously assistant to Secretary General, Catherine Day.

  16. A guiding principle, in the words of one interviewee, was ‘you need a thief a catch a thief’.

  17. The Hearing procedure is governed by Rule 118 of the Parliament’s Rules of Procedure.

  18. Barroso, for example, had been blocked from appointing Rocco Buttiglione in 2004 and Rumiana Jeleva, in 2009.

  19. The conservative ECR group welcomed the new Commission structure, despite abstaining from the vote. Indeed, Syed Kamall, President of the ECR group, praised Juncker for his plans for ‘an integrated structure focused on outcomes’.

  20. See details at, accessed 4 November 2015.

  21. As Bertonchini (2014) observes, in spite of the EPP’s weaker electoral performance compared with 2009 the partisan balance between the Barroso and the Juncker Commission is relatively unchanged. Juncker has nineteen members from the centre and centre-right, and nine from the left and centre-left, while Barroso had twenty-one and seven, respectively. The main differences are the smaller number of ALDE-affiliated members (five rather than eight) and the inclusion of an ECR-affiliated member.

  22. The letters are available on the Commission’s website at, accessed 5 January 2016.

  23. An online survey conducted among Commission staff as part of a project led by the current author found that only 12 per cent of respondents believed that the College communicated effectively with the services and only 9 per cent that the Commission communicated effectively with European citizens (Connolly and Kassim, 2015).

  24. The cabinets have an important role to play, but they are not only smaller, but also more junior and therefore less experienced than historically as a result of reforms introduced since the early 1990s to limit parachutage.

  25. For example, within the energy union group between pollution and energy systems, and within the maritime and environmental protection portfolio.

  26. Between 2009 and 2014, the Barroso Commission proposed an average of 130 new initiatives in each annual work programme, and proposed to withdraw an average of thirty.

  27. Juncker made clear that he was fearless in this respect: ‘I don’t want to hide from you that I have the firm intention to respond to all unjustified criticism addressed to the Commission, no matter from where they come. I am not a guy who trembles before the Prime Ministers or before other high instances’.

  28. In a scandal that became known as ‘Luxleaks’ it emerged that Luxembourg had allowed more than a thousand companies to avoid paying tax. As prime minister of the Grand Duchy from 1995 to 2013, Juncker was embarrassed by the scandal, although he claimed on 12 November 2014 never to have given instructions on any particular dossier. With seventy-seven signatories the Five Star movement, UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the National Front moved a vote of censure against the Commission in the European Parliament. It was defeated with 466 votes against.

  29. It is noteworthy that Juncker was charged with preparing the second report on the evolution of Economic and Monetary Union – the so-called ‘Five President’s Report’ (Juncker et al, 2015), when Tusk’s successor, Herman van Rompuy, had taken the lead in writing the first report (the ‘Four Presidents’ report’) in 2012.

  30. Juncker (2014c) declared in his address to the plenary on 22 October 2014: ‘I have been elected President of the Commission on the basis of a programme that binds me to the European Parliament. I have a contract with you, Mr President, and with this House, and I intend to abide by the terms of the contract I put before you this summer’.

  31. In his speech on 22 October 2014, Juncker called himself ‘the big loser’, because ‘I have delegated most of my jobs and prerogatives to the Vice-Presidents’. He added: ‘I am too old to launch a new career as a dictator’.


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The author would like to thank the officeholders in the European Commission who kindly agreed to answer his questions on a strictly non-attributable basis about the operation of the new Commission in interviews in Brussels between March and July 2015 as part of the research for this article. He is also grateful to Sara Connolly, and to two anonymous referees, who offered comments on an earlier version, to two members of Commission staff who read the original draft, and to Martin Westlake for several very helpful suggestions. The usual disclaimer applies.

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kassim, h. what’s new? a first appraisal of the juncker commission. Eur Polit Sci 16, 14–33 (2017).

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  • Juncker commission
  • European commission
  • European commission presidency
  • spitzenkanditaten