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The political leadership of the European Commission is set to change substantially next year, as the new cohort of Commissioners will be reshaped to fit the changing balance of power arising from the EU elections. This is a challenge for stakeholders, as they are likely to lose political allies in key DGs, but it’s also an opportunity to engage with new decision-makers.
This report outlines our preliminary forecasts concerning the future re-structuring of the European Commission, including an exclusive outlook on the future chances of re-appointment of individual Commissioners.
Previous reshuffles indicate that most Commissioners will be replaced
We expect the Commissioners’ turnover to be rather significant next year. As shown by the chart below, the rate of replacement of Commissioners is historically very high, as more than two thirds of Commissioners have been replaced after the elections in 2014 and 2019:
Several factors explain the non-reappointment of Commissioners, chief among these reasons being the lack of political support in their home countries. In other cases, Commissioners prefer to land key positions at national level (former Commissioners are usually well positioned to become Prime Ministers or Presidents, for instance).
Observing the changes in the national governments’ political composition and leadership is the main key to forecast the chances of a Commissioner to stay on for a new term. In fact, situations such as Timmermans receiving the support of the Dutch government in 2019 despite his party being in opposition at that time are rare exceptions rather than the norm.
Importantly, in our engagement with Brussels-based stakeholders, we observe a significant over-estimation of the chances of Commissioners with high profile in the EU Capital, while lower consideration is given to domestic political dynamics (which are key for their re-appointment). Additionally, people tend to overestimate the chances of those they like, thus expecting the national governments to share their same positive or negative views on the Commissioners, although their evaluation is based on completely different criteria.
Below you will find our evaluation at this point in time of the chances of each of the current Commissioners to be part of the next Commission (our analysis follows below the chart):
President Von der Leyen stands, at this point, strong chances of being reappointed as the head of the next EU Executive. Unless important events occur to change the current trends, she seems to be on her way to secure the support of the German government, that of the EPP and of an European Parliamentary majority. In June / July 2024 the power in both the EP and the Council will be rather fragmented among the political families: EPP is likely to remain the biggest group in the EP, while the Socialists, Renew and ECR will each control one of the governments of the 3 biggest EU countries. The Greens also have a strong say in the German government. Consequently, a moderate, easy-to-compromise candidate will be needed. Furthermore, the power at the top of the Commission will also need to be divided (i.e. strong vice-presidents), to maintain a political equilibrium.
However, most of the current Vice-Presidents face an uphill battle to be re-elected (depicted in red and dark red colours), due to the weak position of their political parties at home. Timmermans and Vestager, despite their high profile in Brussels, have few chances to land a new term.
This is also the case of high-profile Commissioners, such as the Environmental Commissioner Sinkevičius (whose party is bound to an opposition role until late next year). This means that we are likely to see new names as vice-presidents next year.
Furthermore, the re-appointment of some Commissioners (highlighted in light green) will be determined by complex negotiations between the parties that are part of the government. Due to the fragmentation of the political landscape across Europe, government coalitions require an increasing number of parties, which complicates any decisions on the political affiliation of the proposed Commissioner. This is especially the case of governments where there is no clearly dominant party (Belgium, Ireland, Luxembourg, Romania, etc.).
Among the current cohort of Commissioners, Breton seems the best positioned to continue and even upgrade his position (such as to a top Vice-Presidential position), taking into account both his domestic support and his rising profile in Brussels (where he benefits, among other things, from the high salience of industrial policy in the current debate). The Socialists will also have a strong vice-president, and this person is likely to come from a smaller country: Germany is highly unlikely to nominate a Socialist Commissioner, while the domestic support for Timmermans and Borrell is precarious, hence there is room for another figure to emerge from the Socialist camp and occupy a top position at EU level.
Structural changes to reflect new balance of power
The von der Leyen Commission addressed the increasingly fragmented political scene by introducing a record high number of Vice-Presidencies and by establishing the position of executive Vice-Presidents. We expect the next College of Commissioners to become ever more complex in its structure, as the traditional large political families are projected to lose further ground (as shown by our latest electoral forecasts) and new forces will have a claim to a higher seat at the table.
While the Greens were not in a strong position to capitalise on their electoral success in 2019 (due to their weak position in the Council and their decision not to support the von der Leyen Commission), ECR might be in a stronger position in 2024 to play a role in the allocation of the portfolios in the next Commission. The Italian ECR-led government has been getting closer to the EPP and it is trying to portray itself as a partner to engage with at the EU level. If the other strong ECR party, Polish PiS, manages to stay in power after the upcoming domestic elections this autumn (which is highly uncertain at the moment), then the ECR political family will be difficult to ignore during the intergovernmental negotiations (despite its lack of popularity in Brussels).
The mapping below shows our forecast of the likely situation within the Council next year (when Council leaders will need to agree on their proposal for next Commission President). The increasing fragmentation in the Council and especially among the largest countries (which are likely to be led by very different political majorities) is likely to give rise to a more complicated arrangement with dispersion of power in the Commission.
Furthermore, the EP will also be increasingly fragmented, as shown in our projections below, which will require delicate diplomacy to obtain majorities both for approving the Commission and, later on, pushing through legislation.
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Feel free to contact us at [email protected] for more forecasts and insights on the upcoming EU elections. We can provide you with dedicated briefings, visualisations and presentations on how the elections will likely affect specific EU policies (such as environment, energy, health, digital, trade, etc.).
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