EU Commission unveils new senior team in the run-up to 2019 polls

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23 February 2018

Even by recent Brussels standards, it was a big week. We saw an important step towards a shift in the European Commission leadership ahead of next year’s European elections and Commission renewal.

Martin Selmayr, known as the most powerful person in the Commission, was named Secretary-General. A German national, Selmayr is currently Head of Cabinet to Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Of his six predecessors as Secretary-General, five have been men and one woman. Two were Dutch, two Irish, one British and one French.

The real impact of Selmayr’s appointment is yet to be fully evaluated. Inevitably, German politics and interests are expected to have an even bigger impact on EU law-making - on top of the active role of Commissioner Günther Oettinger, in charge of Budget and Human Resources. On the other hand, Selmayr may want to ensure continuity in 2019 – a pivotal year when a new Commission President and College of Commissioners will be chosen, along with a reshuffle and new appointments of Director-Generals.

The week also brought encouraging news on the gender balance front, with the appointment of Clara Martinez Alberola as Selmar’s successor as Head of Juncker’s Cabinet. She is the first woman and the first Spanish national in Commission history to head the President's office. What is more, the number of women in the Director-General and Deputy Director-General positions rose significantly this week to 36% from just 11% in November. Juncker is committed to a target of 40% by 31 October 2019.

Amongst this week’s appointments, two experienced trade negotiators rose to leading positions in a reflection of the EU’s top priorities. Mauro Petriccione and Joost Korte - each a former Deputy-Director General of DG Trade - are appointed respectively as Director-General of DG Climate Action and Director-General of DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. Certainly, their experience with tough negotiations in then EU-Canada and EU-Japan trade agreements will help pave the way towards full implementation of the Paris Agreement but very likely for also handling outstanding questions on Brexit and EU Emissions Trading Scheme and on workers’ and residency rights post-Brexit.

In another significant move, the former Deputy Secretary-General, Jean-Eric Paquet will become Director-General of DG Research and Innovation. This is no coincidence. This experienced professional from the Secretariat-General will as head of Research and Innovation, a core priority for this Commission, add value on how to boost innovation across sectors and provide for funding opportunities for companies, organisations and NGOs in the EU. Staying on in his top energy role, Dominique Ristori will keep working to make the Energy Union a reality and ensure clean energy supply across Europe.

The week’s changes certainly set the scene for exciting times ahead in 2019. With the new appointments, a strategic team is in place to ensure that the next Commission remains aligned on political priorities as well as to have continuity on handling the post-Brexit phase of implementation.

By Tania Pentcheva, Head of Public Policy @ Cambre Associates

Photo credit: © European Union, 2018 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Etienne Ansotte

Article original published on Public Affairs Networking

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