Summary 

The European Parliament blocked the appointment of three of President-elect Ursula von Der Leyen’s Commissioners-designate, causing a delayed start for her Commission. While rejections and delay are not unusual, the distinctive feature in these circumstances surrounds the blocking of the crucial French candidate put forward by President Emmanuel Macron.

Originally set to commence on 1 November 2019, European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission has instead been delayed after the European Parliament blocked three of her Commissioners-designate from taking office.

While it is not unusual for the European Parliament to block Commissioners-designate, von der Leyen’s Commission has suffered an unusually high number of rejections, although it appears unlikely that the resulting delay will last long.

Ghosts of Commissions Past 

In 2004, José Manuel Barroso’s first Commission was delayed by a few weeks as MEPs forced the replacement of the Italian nominee, Rocco Buttiglione, due to his personal beliefs. The Latvian nominee, Ingrīda Ūdre, was ousted because of irregularities in the funding for her political party.

Barroso’s second Commission was delayed for approximately four months, although the MEPs’ rejection of the Bulgarian nominee, Rumiana Jeleva, was only partly responsible for this. Jeleva was removed over both her failure to declare her active role in a company whilst she served as an MEP and her apparent lack of knowledge of her portfolio.

Ghosts of Commissions Present 

Former Slovenian Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek’s appointment was blocked during the hearings for Jean-Claude Juncker’s Commission in 2014. She was rejected after appearing to be unprepared for her hearing and for failing to deal with questions regarding a potential conflict-of-interest. However, this did not cause a delay to the start of Juncker’s Commission.

Ghosts of Commissions Yet to Come 

Sylvie Goulard was the most notable of the three Commissioners-designate to be blocked by the European Parliament because she was the French nominee. Her candidacy was reportedly rejected over her alleged misuse of EU funds and payments in respect of an American think tank.

Commentators have also suggested that the European People’s Party (EPP) set its sights on Goulard after French President Emmanuel Macron circumvented the Spitzenkandidaten system to block EPP leader Manfred Weber from becoming Commission President in favour of von der Leyen. Under the Spitzenkandidaten system, the new leader would have come from the largest group in the European Parliament – the EPP.

In blocking the nominee from one of the European Union’s big two, the European Parliament demonstrated its willingness to exercise its veto power over the composition of the Commission.

The other two rejected nominees, Romania’s Rovana Plumb and Hungary’s László Trócsányi, received rejections due to potential conflicts-of-interest.

The difficulties faced by von der Leyen are also the result of the current political composition of the European Parliament. The two main centrist groups collectively hold fewer than 50% of the seats in Parliament, thus reducing the scope for the two groups to work together to ensure that their nominees survive the Parliamentary hearings.

The pushed-back schedule will now see further confirmation hearings in Brussels lasting through to the end of the year. It remains to be seen how President-elect von der Leyen’s Commission will be established and how Margrethe Vestager’s second term as Competition Commissioner unfolds with her dual-role in competition and overseeing EU digital policy. We will report further on these developments in our next blog focussing on Vestager following the confirmation of the new Commission.