Finance Fears

A Most Unwanted Man?

Pierre Moscovici_DPA
Vive la France!
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Pierre Moscovici failed to keep within E.U. budgetry contraints as France’s finance minister. Many critics in Berlin and Brussels are worried about his suitability as E.U. finance chief.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Moscovici has been nominated for the role of European Commissioner for economic and financial affairs.
    • He was formerly a top-ranking member of France’s ruling Socialist Party.
    • He will be one of 28 commissioners in the powerful E.U. commission, which for the first time includes several deputy presidents.
  • Audio

    Audio

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On his left sits a Frenchman, on his right a German, and in-between Pierre Moscovici waxes lyrical about the friendship between France and Germany. “Without it, Europe is nothing,” said the incoming European Commissioner for economic and financial affairs.

Then he introduces his future chief-of-staff, Olivier Bailly of France, and Mr. Bailly’s German deputy, Reinhard Felke.

It is not by chance that Mr. Moscovici has brought along the German, who is a top-ranking official in the European Union. Mr. Felke is supposed to help to calm German critics. And there are a lot of them these days in Brussels and in Berlin. In both cities, members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats fear Mr. Moscovici will be overly generous to his home country when it comes to government finances.

As finance minister in France, Mr. Moscovici could not manage to reduce the French budget deficit to the 3 percent target set by the European Union. Less than two years ago, the French Socialist Party member violated the E.U.’s budgetary rules – and now he’s supposed to monitor how those very rules are followed? Many Germans are struggling with the idea.

“I know that reservations exist,” said Mr. Moscovici.

“I know that reservations exist.”

Pierre Moscovici, European Finance Commissioner-designate

For weeks now, he has barnstormed through Brussels and Berlin to bolster his image. He has met with the German chancellery, the finance ministry and members of the European Parliament. His message has been consistent: “In the European Commission, I will not be an ambassador of France. I will strictly apply the E.U. budgetary rules.”

But all of his assurances have not quelled the distrust. The belief that Mr. Moscovici could possibly treat his home country the same way as others might not even be shared by his powerful advocate, Jean-Claude Juncker, the incoming president of the European Commission. In dealing with his close friend, Mr. Juncker apparently adheres to the old saying: “Trust is good, control is better.”

“He has put two watchdogs alongside Mr. Moscovici,” said Bert van Roosebeke of the Center for European Policy in Freiburg. These come in the form of two vice-presidents on the new commission: Finland’s Jyrki Katainen, who is charged with overseeing growth and investments, and Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis, who will focus on the euro zone. They will have responsibility for some of the same areas as Mr. Moscovici.

“We must work together and find common positions,” conceded Mr. Moscovici.

That could be difficult. Both the Finn and the Latvian have proven their credentials as devotees of strict budgetary discipline. Mr. Moscovici, on the other hand, wants to concentrate on other issues. “The new commission must deliver on growth and jobs,” he said. “Otherwise, Europe could be finished.”

Mr. Moscovici doesn't consider Mr. Juncker’s deputies to be his supervisors in any way.

Mr. Moscovici admits that in the future there could be differences of opinion between him and the two vice-presidents. “Of course, we will not spontaneously agree in all matters,” he said.

He is heading towards the inevitable controversies with a healthy dose of self-confidence, and notes that – in contrast to the two vice-presidents – he has “direct access to the head office.” And he doesn’t consider Mr. Juncker’s deputies to be his supervisors in any way. “They are not monitors,” said Mr. Moscovici.

From a purely legal perspective, that is true. According to the European Union treaty, it is not permissible to have first- and second-class E.U. commissioners. All members of the commission in Brussels have one vote each and enjoy the same rights – only the president of the commission is first among equals.

So the seven new vice-presidents of the commission are dependent on Mr. Juncker. They can only exercise influence if he supports them. Without the help of the E.U. president, on the other hand, they can play only a marginal role.

Ruth Berschens heads the Handelsblatt office in Brussels and covers European policies. Contact the author: berschens@handelsblatt.com

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