05 Mar 2019

Institutional Rebalancing

the ‘Political’ Commission

Sophia Russack

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When Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker came into office in 2014 he labelled his Commission as ‘political’ and thereby created much confusion inside and outside the institution. What is a ‘political’ Commission? This contribution answers this question by first shedding theoretical light on the concept of ‘political’, and second by answering what it means in practical terms for the Juncker Commission to be ‘political’. It furthermore examines the effect on the inter-institutional balance, i.e. the Commission’s relation to the European Parliament and the European Council.

This paper finds that the ‘political’ Commission is not a new concept but instead a gradual development since the post-Maastricht era, which aimed to make the Commission less technocratic and more democratic; whereby ‘political’ entailed increased accountability to the European Parliament. The paper furthermore identifies the prioritisation of policies and the application of an internal top-down approach as the crucial ‘political’ elements in Juncker’s Commission. Lastly, the paper finds that – in times of growing importance of intergovernmental decision-making and the (European) Council as a central decision-maker – this is not fertile ground for the concept of a ‘political’ Commission and the federal vision of EU democracy that it carries.

Originally published as a chapter in the CEPS Paperback What Comes After the Last Chance Commission? Policy Priorities for 2019-2024, in which, ahead of the 2019 institutional reconfiguration of the EU, CEPS researchers took stock of the European integration process and recommended which priorities should define the strategic agenda of the next generation of incumbents in a report addressed to the one actor that has a more direct role in fleshing out the policy agenda for Europe: the European Commission.