Legal Briefing

New Commission

The In-House Lawyer Logo

Corporate and commercial | 01 February 2010

On Friday 27 November 2009 the new European Commission, which will begin its mandate early in 2010, was announced by Commission President José Barroso. This announcement followed a week after the appointment of Herman Van Rompuy and Catherine Ashton as the President of the European Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy respectively, the two new roles created by the Lisbon Treaty, which entered into force on 1 December 2009.

WHO’S NEW?

In the Commission, one of the most notable appointments is Joaquín Almunia of Spain, as the Commissioner for Competition and also as one of the Vice-Presidents of the Commission. Almunia, a 61-year-old socialist, is currently the Commissioner responsible for Economic and Monetary Affairs and, before becoming a politician, used to work as an economist for a Spanish trade union and the Council Bureau of the Spanish Chambers of Commerce in Brussels. Given Almunia’s background in trade unions, it is possible that his approach to antitrust violations may be softer than that of current Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes, as he may be more sensitive to the impact of large fines on businesses and their workers. Almunia’s cabinet will be led by Carlos Martinez-Mongay, who is currently head of unit in the Directorate General (DG) for Economic and Financial Affairs. There will also be a new Director General at the helm in DG Competition, with Dutch official Alexander Italianer replacing the British incumbent, Philip Lowe. In addition, the state aid competencies of DG Transport and Energy will be transferred to DG Competition when the new Commission begins its mandate.

Neelie Kroes has been appointed as Digital Agenda Commissioner, while Olli Rehn from Finland will replace Almunia as the Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner.

Other notable appointments include Michel Barnier from France, who will take over from Ireland’s Charlie McCreevy as Commissioner for the Internal Market and Services. It was expected that Financial Services would be split out from Internal Market but this has not happened. Barnier is a close ally of the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, to whom he is currently a political advisor. He has served as a Commissioner previously, covering regional policy from 1999-2004. Barnier has been quick to play down speculation that his appointment will see swathes of regulation in the financial services sector, following controversial remarks made in the press by President Sarkozy. As a potential attempt to appease British concerns over Barnier’s appointment, the well-respected British senior official, Jonathan Faull, has been appointed as Director General for the Internal Market. Faull has a background in DG Competition, as does Olivier Guersant, who has been appointed as Barnier’s head of cabinet.

COMMENT

The Commission as a whole is subject to European Parliament approval and the Parliament began hearings into the chosen Commissioners in Brussels on 11 January 2010, and ended with Maria Damanaki’s (Commissioner designate for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) hearing on 19 January 2010 in Luxembourg. Once approved, the new Commissioners will take office.