Hearings for the new European Commission will come to a close this week, after an intense round of scrutiny that saw candidates like Tibor Navracsics left out in the cold. On Tuesday, the Hungarian nominee for the education, culture, youth and citizenship portfolio was rejected for the post by the E.U. Parliament in Brussels, though he may retain his role as a European Union commissioner. (Note that the Parliament is responsible for vetting the commissioners nominated by their respective European governments as well as the portfolios assigned by Juncker; the assembly will vote on the entire commission makeup on October 22.)
Parliament member concerns centered on Navracsics’ ties to Hungary’s autocratic Prime Minister Viktor Orban who has tightened controls on civil society in recent years. The veto threatens the team envisioned by incoming commission president Jean-Claude Juncker mere weeks before it is set to take office on November 1 — and forces Juncker to conduct an emergency reshuffle. Navracsics is not the only problematic candidate. The U.K.’s Jonathan Hill faltered before the European Parliament as well, though no vote on his appointment as financial services chief has been held yet. The former French finance minister Pierre Moscovici is also facing a tough fight, namely because many European lawmakers question his ability to serve as economy head given France’s inability to respect E.U. deficit rules. Lastly, Spanish conservative Miguel Arias Canete has come under fire for a potential conflict of interest (i.e., family ties to the oil industry which call into question his proposed role as energy and climate change head), while Czech Vera Jourova and Slovenian nominee Alenka Bratusek have failed to muster broad support for their justice and energy portfolios, respectively.
Juncker’s woes stem in large part from a fractious European Parliament shaken up by E.U. elections this summer, which saw an influx of smaller, Eurosceptic parties – including several far-right parties – that are challenging the status quo, namely an alliance between the center-left and center-right contingents (including the president-elect’s own party). Adding to the bloodletting, that same loose coalition has splintered in recent days as old rivalries re-emerge.
So what next for Juncker, who already waged and won his own battle for a commission posting (see U.K.’s Cameron in losing battle over Juncker bid )? The president-elect will need to rearrange his team’s makeup and reassign portfolios if he wants to assuage the Parliament’s many concerns and ensure his policy vision can be carried out. (That or redefine the portfolios themselves, i.e., removing the contentious citizenship head from Navracsics’ role.)
That said, consensus will be long in coming. The once-feeble Parliament has been pushing for greater influence in Brussels in recent years and the October 22 vote looks to be no different. Whatever the final makeup of Juncker’s commission, the president-elect will be hard pressed to outrun the party rivalries dominating Parliament, new and old alike.