The group led by Jean-Claude Juncker was defined by his own President as the one of “the last opportunity”, a “political” European Commission (in its President’s words as well), that was supposed to revive a Union torn apart by the financial and the migration crises, by the relationships with Russia and much more.
However, that “last opportunity” has been lost, or so it seems.
There is an extensive list of defeats, which is probably unfinished. There is still about a year and a half (November 2019) until the end of the mandate of what the Luxembourgian likes to call the “Team Juncker”, but a review is possible – also taking into account that, in about a year, the elections for the new European Parliament are to be held: therefore, this term is about to enter a sort of long “white semester” in a few months.
This Team has mainly suffered an overwhelming, historical, dramatic defeat: the Brexit. The European group, and the Team as well, is about to lose one of its protagonists in less than a year, and the U.K. is no minor player. Of course, it is not all a Commission’s fault: the responsibility mainly falls on a group of mediocre politicians, primarily conservatives, led by an unfit David Cameron, which had led a sort of civil war inside their own party. However, the Commission did little or nothing to help the Remainers, and made the wicked choice to never be seen in public initiatives across the Channel. Irresponsibly, it left things going (in hell) on their own. Certainly, there is no counter-evidence of what would have happened if the European Commission had committed itself more intensely, perhaps even before the referendum campaign had started, but for sure the result achieved was the worst possible. Also considering the fact that the defeat of Remainers has meant a government led by a litigious and uncertain political class, which could only worsen the conditions of the divorce.
Thus, the club lost a partner during Juncker’s presidency. And this is a heavy legacy to leave.
Perhaps that of Great Britain will be the only “physical” abandonment, but what about the virtual abandonment of many shared policies operated by countries such as Poland, Hungary or even the little Austria? It is a depletion of the role of the Union, which should do its best get more and more united, avoiding this mere attempt to hold together with some crooked nail a picture which seems to be crumbling. This is not the end of the story, though: the Juncker Commission is an inactive witness of the progressive depletion of democratic values and of the rule of law, which should be the foundation of the Union, its connective tissue. Journalists have been killed in more than one Member State, and in at least one case their murders had heavy connections to the party that was and still is governing the country. Freedom of the press is trampled in many countries, like Hungary and Poland. Civil liberties have been compressed, justice has been put under political control…
There is another aspect that has heavy repercussions on freedom, as no jobs means no freedom. The economic crisis hasn’t been solved. True, there is a recovery, but it is stronger in those countries, such as Portugal, which – as far as they could – have rejected the Brussels directives. A recovery that favours in particular some Member States, like Germany (in which doubts have been raised on how things are really going, though), and not others. Big countries like Italy haven’t really recovered, even if largely for the fault of those who governed them.
“Populists”, all those anti-system parties that are spreading across Europe, are another legacy that this Commission has contributed to help. For years, Brussels have announced its commitment to stop them: the thing is, these announcements only resulted in helping these movements. They are now at the government, or at least they can now affect the governments’ choices. It happened in Germany, France, Italy, and the Netherlands, but also in Hungary, Poland, Finland. These are all different stories, different parties, one cannot compare apples and oranges, of course. However, these parties, even though in volatile shapes, form powerful groups once at the European Parliament: these groups are apparently getting stronger and stronger, and sooner or later they will also express a European Commissioner. This is all happening without the “Team Juncker” ever managing to put a stop, ever attempting to give citizens one reason less to support them instead of one more.
One more piece of the puzzle is the EPP: similarly to what the Tories have done, it is trying to hold everything and everyone together, in order not to fall apart and lose importance and therefore power – you can find Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi, Viktor Orbán, there. An no one is brave enough to say that Hungary the line has been crossed – making all European citizens pay the price for this.
There is no lesson this Commission seems to have learnt. Perhaps because it wasn’t able to do it.
Who are the members of Juncker’s “dream team”, actually? Almost none remarkable. The Luxembourgish failed to obtain strong names from his partners, but perhaps truth becomes evident at this point: he did not want them. There are two or three players of the big leagues, someone from the minor ones, and many from amateur tournaments indeed. Does anyone remember the “bomber Katainen”, the Finnish hawk that was supposed to revolutionize the European economy? There were a lot of expectations on him, but the strategic investment plan he coordinated had a merely marginal impact. Broadening the focus to other Commission’s proposed policies, such as the relocation of the refugees between member countries – which hasn’t worked and indeed strengthened internal divisions – and the CETA – which divided the public opinion and faced enormous difficulties in Wallonia – one has to say they obtained very poor results. And this is also due to the lack of consultation between Brussels and the regional bodies that had to approve them.
Furthermore, we can say the Team lost an important player very soon. Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva, a Bulgarian conservative, with strong ideas, welcomed and appreciated by many, left her office to become the World Bank’s CEO. An illustrious position – however, being the Vice President of the European Commission can’t be seen as meaningless. Yet, rumours say she “has escaped” because she wasn’t allowed to do her work. It is no secret in fact that “Team Juncker” is actually the nickname of only one man in charge – make an educated guess – and many, too many, in the Commission say that there’s a “stifling atmosphere”. Guess who? Surprise, surprise, we are not talking about Juncker, but about his right-hand man, a young German named Martin Selmayr, a divisive personality in the Commission (you either love him or hate him). Until a few weeks ago he was “just” Juncker’s head of cabinet. Then, with a reckless manoeuvre, he became Secretary General of the Commission in a few hours: the most important European official, the one who, even without reporting to a supervising role, has all the dossiers of the Commission on his desk, from the most important strategic initiatives to the hiring of a driver in a distant location. Selmayr controls everything, representing Juncker and perhaps a little more than Juncker, even intimidating many of the Commissioners.
The image of the Commission, after almost four years of “Team Juncker”, is now weaker than ever, even more than the one led by José Manuel Barroso.
Well, maybe it is all the institution per se: perhaps, it can no longer work as intended. But this is another matter. And we’ll have to deal with it, sooner or later.