JunckerTeamEU - change in style but not much in substance
Juncker's proposal for a new team of Commissioners shows a positive shift in style but in substance risks being more of the same: economic regeneration is centre stage, not people’s well-being.
The total lack of reference to 'social investment' as a priority is particularly worrying. Juncker appears more interested to promote the 'social market economy' shifting the focus to jobs and economic growth, and away from social inclusion and well-being.
One of the most promising mission letters is that for the Commissioner for Education, Youth, Culture and Citizenship which states "making sure Europeans can fully participate in society and empowering them to engage is a key social concern but it also crucial for our ability to embrace change and compete globally". But his chosen candidate to this position is not so promising: Tibor Navracsics, former Foreign minister for Hungary, is perhaps not best placed to champion "European identity and values" given his proximity to Orban – a vocal critic of the EU.
Much of the rhetoric in Juncker's proposals is about collegiality and breaking down the silos in European policy making. There’s also a welcome emphasis on strengthening the connection with national parliaments and dialogue with citizens (civil society however is not explicitly mentioned). His appointment of 7 Vice-Presidents, 3 of which are women, is an attempt to ensure better coordination, political direction and impact. The split between Jobs, Growth, Investment & Competitiveness and the Euro and Social Dialogue is confusing though. The latter leads on the European semester, but the former on Europe 2020 and targets. Both candidates Finnish Jyrki Katainen (Jobs & Growth), Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis (Euro & Social Dialogue) are staunch ‘austerity supporters’.
There are many references to the social impact of the crisis and the need to protect the most vulnerable in society. Appointment of Belgium's Marianne Thyssen as Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Labour Mobility may be helpful, but let's hope dropping 'inclusion' from her title doesn't weaken her capacity to push a broader social agenda. Belgium has always been an important ally in promoting investment in children, so we hope she will carry forward Commissioner Andor's legacy with similar enthusiasm.
Another welcome appointment is Lithuanian Vytenis Andriukaitis as Commissioner for Health and Food Safety. Former health minister, he clearly has a keen interest in the area - a first for this position! Whilst the Commission's scope for initiative is limited by subsidiarity, the mission letter does refer to informing national and EU policies on "modernisation of social protection systems and to the quality and effectiveness of public expenditure" which could support member state reforms that favour prevention, early intervention and more integrated working.
In terms of furthering child rights mainstreaming across all EU action, having a First Vice-President with responsibility for ensuring all Commission initiatives comply with the Charter of Fundamental Rights might be helpful. However the candidate Netherlands Frans Timmermans has to combine this with better regulation, inter-institutional affairs and rule of law. It seems to be more a position of gatekeeping Commission business than anything else.
The child rights coordinator sits in DG Justice, which will now be combined with consumers and gender equality. Again, worryingly, the rhetoric is about creating "a sound and predicable justice system ..... for economic growth and a business friendly environment". Former regional development minister for the Czech Republic Vera Jourova is proposed for this position. We hope she'll have the ambition to take forward and strengthen the work carried out so far under the Agenda on the rights of the child.
Regional policy is another important portfolio for us. Our 'Opening Doors' campaign aims to leverage EU funds to support reforms in the health, education, social welfare and child protection fields, thereby preventing separation of children from their families and ensuring quality care alternatives to institutions. Romania's Corina Cretu, formerly EP Vice-President and a signed-up 'Child Rights Champion' should be a promising choice. For the neighborhood and enlargement region, Juncker proposes Austria's Johannes Hahn. Previously Commissioner for Regional Policy, Hahn presided over the adoption of structural fund regulations that made deinstitutionalization a priority for investment. Hopefully this commitment will be carried into his new role. Ending institutional care and ensuring all children have the best possible start in life is the best possible way of ensuring long-term stability and greater prosperity in the region.
In the coming weeks, the European Parliament organises hearings for the Commissioners-designate and then has to give its consent to the entire College. Together with our partners, we have prepared questions both on investing in children and children's rights. We believe our ultimate goal must be to build a society where everybody has the possibility to fulfill their human potential. Job creation and economic regeneration service that goal, but are not an end in themselves.
Juncker insists that his team "are open to change and ready to adapt". Maybe with "sound arguments" and a "clear narrative" we can convince him still!