New Commission unveiled
In August 2004, the incoming President of the European Commission, José Manuel Durão Barroso, announced the details of his new Commission. The new social affairs and employment policy Commissioner will be Vladimir Spidla, whose portfolio will specifically include equal opportunities. In terms of the new Commission’s goals, Mr Barroso has stressed that implementation of the Lisbon economic and social strategy was a key aim. The new Commission will take office on 1 November after having gained the approval of the European Parliament.
José Manuel Durão Barroso, President-designate of the European Commission and previously Prime Minister of Portugal, unveiled on 12 August 2004 the details of his new Commission, which will take office on 1 November 2004. The new Commission will consist of 25 members, as each EU Member State is entitled to one Commissioner under present rules. Under the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, the text of which was agreed in June 2004 (EU0406204F), from 1 November 2009, future Commissions will consist of a total of 15 members, selected on the basis of a system of equal rotation between the Member States.
New employment and social policy Commissioner
The new Commissioner with responsibility for employment and social policy issues will be Vladimir Spidla of the Czech Republic. He replaces Stavros Dimas, who will now become the environment Commissioner.
In addition to responsibility for employment and social affairs, Mr Spidla will also have specific responsibility for equal opportunities and will chair the group of Commissioners for equal opportunities. This reflects Mr Barroso’s wish to reinforce equal opportunities policy in the EU.
Mr Spidla is a former Czech minister of labour and social affairs and was appointed Czech Prime Minister on 12 July 2002. He resigned as Prime Minister and leader of the Czech Social Democratic Party after the June 2004 elections to the European Parliament (EP), at which his party fared poorly.
It is hoped that Mr Spidla 's experiences as employment and social affairs minister in the Czech government will help him to tackle the main challenges posed by the employment and social situation in the EU.
Composition of new Commission
The new Commission will have the highest number of female Commissioners yet - eight out of the 25. It will also have a total of five vice-Presidents: Margot Wallström, who will be responsible for institutional relations and communications strategy; Günter Verheugen, responsible for enterprise and industry; Jacques Barrot, who will have responsibility for transport; Rocco Buttiglione, who will have the justice, freedom and security portfolio; and Siim Kallas, who will have responsibility for administrative affairs, audit and anti-fraud policies.
Lisbon strategy a priority
Mr Barroso has stressed that one of the priorities for the new Commission will be to achieve better implementation of the Lisbon strategy, devised in March 2000, to make Europe the world’s most competitive economy by 2010 (EU0004241F). He will therefore personally coordinate the EU’s efforts in this area, chairing the group of Commissioners that will follow up the Lisbon strategy. This will be carried out in close cooperation with the industry Commissioner, Günter Verheugen.
To enhance the new Commission’s work in all fields, including that of employment and social policy, greater use will be made of task forces. It is therefore expected that, where this is appropriate, the Commission’s work will be prepared in advance by thematic groups and task forces that will draw together Commissioners whose portfolios relate to the policy challenge in question.
The new Commission was to meet for an informal session on 20 August 2004 in Brussels. Before it can take office on 1 November, it must be approved by the EP, which can only vote on the Commission as a whole and not on individuals. Commissioners will appear before EP committees in individual hearings over two weeks from 27 September. Once the EP has approved the new Commission, it will began work on developing its policy plan and on drawing up a detailed programme of work over the coming five years.
Mr Barroso stated: 'I have organised this strong team to ensure we work efficiently and achieve the goals we set ourselves. I attach great importance to team players committed to the European general interest. Commissioners will work together and deliver real benefits for EU citizens.' He stressed that the Commission acts as a college and decides collectively on all issues and that each Commissioner will be equal in the process of collective decision-making: 'I do not want first- and second-class Commissioners. All Commissioners are equally important. I want my authority to be based on solid team work.'
It is clear that the incoming Commission’s work in the employment and social field will focus strongly on the implementation of the Lisbon strategy, which the Commission notes is 'suffering an implementation deficit'. The deadline for achieving the goal of making the EU the world’s most competitive economy -2010 - will start to loom during the new Commission’s term of office, which will no doubt play a part in focusing minds on the issue. The latest Commission evaluation of the European employment strategy, to which the Lisbon strategy is linked, also shows that the EU is in danger of falling short of certain targets, in particular those relating to the labour market participation of older workers (EU0402204F). The employment strategy’s main targets must be met by 2010 and its intermediate targets by 2005.
The precise way in which the Commission will improve the economic and social policy performance of the EU will not become clear until it has drawn up its detailed five-year programme of work. However, it is likely that it will focus on issues such as increasing employment and improving social inclusion. This may be achieved by a variety of means, including tackling youth unemployment, encouraging older workers to remain in or re-enter the labour market and providing incentives for people to move out of social welfare benefits and into work. (Andrea Broughton, IRS)