Yes, the next EU commission president will matter

This coming Sunday, leaders of the EU member states will try to pick the next EU commission president – for the second time, as the first attempt failed. Something for only EU enthusiasts and bureaucrats to get excited about? Perhaps, but also a decision with major implications for Nordic industries.

During its current president Jean Claude Juncker the commission has been increasingly setting the EU agenda on new legislation following signals coming from the European parliament and citizens. The original plan for Juncker’s commission was to focus on economic recovery and rebuilding of confidence after the economic and financial crisis. But when the sudden wave of migration hit Europe in 2015, the commission was quick to react with new legislative proposals. And when plastic in the seas became a popular worry, the commission brought the directive banning single-use plastic to the parliament, which quickly passed it.

In light of this, where would the current presidential candidates take the EU?

The question likely to dominate all EU decision making in the near future is climate change. But approaches to it may vary. 

If the next president comes from France – Michel Barnier is certainly a possibility – he will have a strong standing, but a very traditional approach. He will be more likely to protect than to innovate, and to focus on maintaining EU unity and continuity. The same would apply to a German, although the chances of Manfred Weber are not very high.

A northern European candidate like Danish Margrethe Vestager or Dutch Mark Rutte would be likely to be bolder in their initiatives be it decarbonization or digitalization. They would also be more open for input from the outside, following in the transparent tradition of Nordic policy making.

A candidate from the left – Dutch Frans Timmermans is the social democratic front-runner – would be more focused on social justice when solving the climate crisis and more likely to introduce new taxes and restrictions concerning the industry.

In any case the search for policy solutions will start immediately. The European parliament is set to vote on the commission president in the coming week and expects also to hear candidate’s views about the policy priorities for the next five years: how is Europe going to get rid of coal – and how fast? How should AI be regulated?

The work programme of the new commission will be adopted in November when the commission takes office.

Many of the questions it will be addressing – from decarbonization to research and innovation policy and education are ones in which the Nordics are front runners. The demand for good ideas is there – and it would be opportune for the Nordics to join forces in presenting efficient solutions. Otherwise, they will have to adapt to the approach chosen by the new commission president.

Lotta Nymann-Lindegren
NWO Brussels Correspondent
Senior Consultant, Miltton Europe

Hanna Ojanen