The election of the Slovenian Violeta Bulc as commissioner for transport forfeited what the European Parliament gained in influence and reputation through vigorous political debate among member nations over the major candidates for European elections and the election of Martin Schulz as president of the European Commission.
To wave through a commissioner-designate who says she is not an experienced politician borders already on the indecent. Not even an open-minded observer can fathom why this person, who soon will be responsible for transport policies, is more qualified than her countryman, former Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek. True, Ms. Bratusek was hated by the parliament, which rejected her appointment, but isn’t this a matter of competence?
Asked what role qualifications play in filling important European posts, Parliament President Martin Schulz answered that professional ability was at the top of the list, though he acknowledged there is always an element of politics involved. As the dismissal of Ms. Bratusk and the embrace of Ms. Bulc illustrate, the sacrificing of pawns is as much an indispensable part of politics as is second-rate personnel.
The E.U. parliament gave final approval to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s 27-person team on Wednesday, allowing the new commission to begin work on November 1. That’s welcome news because the European Union no longer can afford inaction.
Political, dynamic, efficient – this is how Mr. Juncker wants his team to be.
A plethora of challenges awaits the commission, ranging from the union’s weak economic growth, tensions with Russia and refugee drama on the borders, to difficult free-trade negotiations with the U.S., energy security and climate change. Two economic heavyweights, France and Italy, are dangerously close to the abyss.
Europe’s crisis is far from over. Like the outgoing Barroso commission, Juncker’s crew will, first and foremost, have to be crisis managers.
Political, dynamic, efficient – this is how Mr. Juncker wants his team to be. And the group’s chances are not bad. Aside from a few individual cases, such as Ms. Bulc, he has filled the most important posts with high-profile figures, many of them former heads of government, ministers and E.U. commissioners. They’ve earned a vote of confidence.
Mr. Juncker has demonstrated courage in structuring his commission. He is surrounding himself with seven vice presidents responsible for the core issues: growth, euro zone, digital economy, energy union and foreign policy. They’ll serve as a buffer between the president and the rest of the portfolio commissioners, and will guarantee their legislative plans won’t counteract each other.
If a vice president believes a commissioner is in error or nonproductive, they can wield a veto. And without much ado, Mr. Juncker has combined areas where conflicts are likely to occur, for example, pairing energy and climate. This is daring, but also consequential.
The new commission has made many promises: improved legislation, greater politicization, focus on key issues. Members of the team must now prove they are capable of working with and not against each other. No one needs the distraction of internal conflicts.
The European Parliament, which promoted democratization in Europe with its showcase of top-tier candidates and increased its influence, wants to prove worthy of its newly won importance and will seek to work constructively with the new commission. Mr. Schulz and Mr. Juncker share a deep level of mutual respect and will stand up for Europe with a sense of reality. Together, they promise to push some buttons in the E.U. member states.
It’s likely the European Union has already come through the most difficult years since its founding, but Mr. Juncker and his team must remain wary and focus on their daily work.
The bar for the Juncker Commission has been set high. Now it’s time for him to prove he’s assembled the right team to do the right thing.
Thomas Ludwig is a correspondent in Brussels. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org