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European Commission fears frenemy infiltration

As the new European Commission settles into office, some officials fear national governments and political parties have gained too much sway inside the EUs executive.

Many Commission insiders take pride in their institutions status as guardian of the EU treaties. And some are alarmed that a significant number of commissioners and senior officials previously served as their countrys ambassador to the EU. As diplomats, theyre used to seeking guidance and taking orders from national governments rather than acting independently.

Some also point to the number of officials with close ties to political parties who have found jobs in commissioners Cabinets — the personal offices composed of top aides who play a key advisory role.

Before a new Commission takes office, governments and parties traditionally lobby hard to get people into key posts. But some say that process was much more aggressive this time around, as Ursula von der Leyens Commission took office last month.

“Never before did party political considerations and member states interests play such an important role, to the detriment of experience and unbiased professionalism,” said one EU official.

“If the Commission becomes sort of an extension of the Council [of the EU], I think thats a development that I would at least not welcome” — Daniel Freund, MEP

The official suggested meetings between Cabinets could be more like a gathering of EU ambassadors or the European Parliaments Conference of Presidents, the body composed of senior MEPs, “to the detriment of supranational non-partisan EU interest.”

The process of filling Cabinets was “much more” politicized this time around, said a diplomat: “Prime ministers were calling von der Leyen and commissioners even to ask for secretary positions.”

The diplomat described an arduous process whereby some countries diplomatic missions to the EU made lists of which commissioners will cover policy areas that are priorities for their capitals. They then went through thousands of resumes, and interviewed candidates before making recommendations for Commission Cabinets.

Diplomatic baggage

The new Commission boasts a group of former national permanent representatives to the EU. These include commissioners Janez Lenarčič of Slovenia and Olivér Várhelyi of Hungary, both of whom moved directly from serving as their countries EU envoy. Denmarks Kim Jørgensen did the same to become Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestagers head of Cabinet.

Vice President Maroš Šefčovič previously served as Slovakias permanent representative | Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP via Getty Images

Vice President Maroš Šefčovič is now a veteran commissioner but he too previously served as Slovakias permanent representative to the EU.

These officials have pledged publicly to serve the whole EU rather than their home country in their new roles. They are also bound to do so under EU rules.

But that has not stopped Commission officials worrying about encroachment by national governments onto their turf, particularly as some former deputy representatives to the EU are now heads of Cabinet for multiple commissioners.

Among them are Neil Kerr of Malta, who heads the Cabinet of Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli, and Swedens Åsa Webber, who performs the same role for Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson.

Other Cabinet heads also have previous experience as national diplomats, including Antoine Kasel of Luxembourg, László Kristóffy of Hungary, Maciej Golubiewski of Poland and Colin Scicluna of Malta.

Staffers who worked for former European Parliament President Antonio Tajani appear to have been particularly successful in finding new jobs at the Commission.

German MEP Daniel Freund, a leading campaigner for political transparency, said it is quite normal for commissioners to have the freedom to choose a small number of personal advisers.

But, he said, “if their Cabinets are basically stacked with representatives of member states, even if they have left the service of the member state, I think its at least something to keep an eye out for.”

He added: “If the Commission becomes at the highest political level sort of an extension of the Council [of the EU], I think thats a development that I, from the European Parliament, would at least not welcome.”

Von der Leyen lays down law

Commission President von der Leyen, for her part, has set out measures intended to ensure no country has control of any policy area. Commissioners are required to have Cabinet members representing at least three different nationalities, while the head of Cabinet or deputy head of Cabinet must be of a different nationality from the commissioner.

But such measures do little to address concerns that officials with close ties to leading politicians have also made it into influential positions in the Commission.

Frans Timmermans hired Diederik Samsom, the former leader of his Dutch Labor Party, as his chief of Cabinet | Aris Oikonomou/AFP via Getty Images

Staffers who worked for former European Parliament President Antonio Tajani of the center-right European Peoples Party (EPP) appear to have been particularly successful in finding new jobs at the Commission.

Two of the Italian politicians aides moved to the Cabinet of Bulgarian Commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who is in charge of innovation, youth and culture. One has gone to the office of Commission Vice President Dubravka Šuica of Croatia and the EPP, and another to the Cabinet of Hungarian Commissioner Várhelyi.

Other EPP veterans have also made the switch to Commission Cabinet posts. Dara Murphy, a former EPP election campaign director and Irish politician, is now a Cabinet expert in Gabriels office. And Brenda Furniere, who served as head of office for Joseph Daul, the former EPP president, is now a member of von der Leyens own Cabinet.

Similarly, Commission Executive First Vice President Frans Timmermans hired Diederik Samsom, the former leader of his Dutch Labor Party, as his chief of Cabinet. And Jutta Urpilainen, the Finnish commissioner for international partnerships, hired a staffer who had previously served as a political secretary at her Social Democratic Party, before spending time at the Finnish finance ministry and a consultancy.

“Its essential that all Cabinet members adhere to the same high standards that are expected of such officials” — Michiel van Hulten, director of Transparency International EU

Ultimately, of course, the Commission isRead More – Source

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