Brexit Institute News

Back to the Future with the VDL Commission

Patrick Bijsmans (Maastricht University)

Finally. Jean-Claude Juncker has bid us ‘au revoir’ via his own edition of the Politico Playbook and the new Von der Leyen Commission started earlier this month. Things didn’t go as smoothly as some had hoped, with the European Parliament blocking three of the candidate Commissioners (László Trócsányi, Hungary; Rovana Plumb, Romania; Sylvie Goulard, France). But VDL and her team have set to work – as have new European Council president Charles Michel and new European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde.

A few months back I reflected on the incoming European Commission in another DCU Brexit post. The game of musical chairs has gone at the expense of the much-hoped gender balance in the VDL Commission – although, as this picture tweeted by Charles Michel shows, EU leadership has generally become quite a bit more balanced! Another difference is that the Commission is no longer ‘Protecting our European Way of Life’ but rather ‘Promoting’ it. Although we still don’t know what ‘Our European Way of Life’ is exactly, the Commission’s website does raise questions about how ‘fundamental rights’ and ‘strong borders’ will be combined.

But let’s give VDL and her team a chance and, instead, look at what will be coming her way in the near future. Here are three feature films coming to European cinemas soon!

  1. Spitzenkandidaten, Part Deux

One issue that I wrote about in more detail in my previous DCU post, concerned the EU’s democratic nature and the need for treaty changes. So, what can we expect from the Commission here? Not too much, probably, as the member states will be in the lead. But the recent Franco-German non-paper on the EU’s future suggests that discussions will certainly affect future Commissions.

The document refers to the need “to promote democracy and European values and to ensure a more efficient functioning of the Union and its Institutions.” Vintage back to the future rhetoric. But interestingly, the paper also directly refers to “transnational lists and lead candidate system”. This suggests that the Parliament’s much-loved Spitzenkandidaten system seems to have now been accepted by Macron and Merkel as the way forward. And that new voting arrangements for European elections may even be on the agenda. Can’t wait until the 2024 European elections!

  1. Climate Wars: The Return of the Jedi

This week the new (and returning) executive vice-President of the Commission, Frans Timmermans, will present the contours of the Union’s new Green Deal to the European Parliament. Given that Parliament has declared a state of climate emergency, questions will certainly be asked. Some of the ideas that have made it to European media, have already been heavily criticised by environmental groups.

Meanwhile, European businesses and EU leaders – the latter being confronted with protests against environmental legislation at home – may want plans to be less ambitious. Finding a compromise between these different interests will be a mammoth task and an important one at that. But, given that Frans Timmermans has taken on the beard of a wise Jedi Knight, the force may be strong with this one. Script and soundtrack have already been leaked!

  1. Monty Python and the Holy Brexit

The British elections are just around the corner. And perhaps Brexit is too. The Conservatives are in the lead in the opinion polls, though this does not necessarily mean that they will win a majority of seats. Labour would hold a new referendum on Brexit, should they win the elections, whereas the LibDems would revoke Article 50 to stop Brexit altogether. Neither of them really stands a chance of gaining a majority, though, but being part of a coalition would also put Brexit into question.

If Boris’ Conservatives win a majority, the British leaving the EU will be a matter of weeks. But even if Boris takes the win and Britain leaves the EU, this will only be the start of determining what their future relationship will look like. And will the EU27 remain as unified when having to negotiate a trade deal with the UK? And if Boris doesn’t win, we may be back to where we were a few months back. And the months before that. And last year… So, if you’re in the Commission, always look on the bright side of life: you’ll still be talking about EU-UK for quite a while!

Brexit, climate change, the future of the EU? It’s back to the future with the new Commission, with three challenges that are likely to stay. Turns out that Jean-Claude Juncker truly understands European politics best: rather than saying ‘goodbye’, we should say ‘au revoir’.

The views expressed in this article reflect the position of the author and not necessarily the one of the Brexit Institute Blog

Patrick Bijsmans is Assistant Professor in European Studies at Maastricht University. You can find him on Twitter, and on his website.

Photo credit: Council of the EU Press Room