Throughout the European reform debate of the past decade, there has been a mainstream political consensus in Germany in favour of the European Commission assuming the role of government in the European Union’s political system. This accounts for Germany’s willingness to give up its second commissioner as a consequence of enlargement. It also influenced Germany to lend some support to the French initiative, launched in the European Convention phase of reform, of significantly reducing the number of commissioners. Berlin did not give it its full backing to the idea because of the explicit concerns of smaller member states. Rather, the German government made it known that Berlin could live with seeing no German commissioner serving in Brussels.
Berlin supported the Lisbon Treaty’s compromise on the number of commissioners, as well as the decision not to apply its provisions in light of the smaller EU members’ insistence on the status quo. At the same time, Berlin continued to call for the commission to be given a more efficient structure. Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal of cross-cutting clusters thus meets some long-standing expectations in the German EU policy community.
The German government is well aware of the weight it carries in the circle of member states and it uses the European Council quite effectively to shape EU policies. Therefore, Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier have not joined in the criticism about the downgrading of the German commissioner or the marginalisation of Germany in the commission’s structure that has been voiced by some members of the Bundestag and echoed in news stories – not least because the German leadership does not want to strengthen similar views in other member states. From the German point of view, a “re-nationalisation” of commissioners would further weaken the EU.
With regard to Günther Oettinger’s new Digital Economy and Society portfolio, it may be no coincidence that the chancellor highlighted this same topic prominently in her speech in the Bundestag’s budget debate on the very day that Juncker was presenting his team in Brussels. Berlin actors are eager to see when and how Juncker will succeed with his reform approach, and they are determined not to fuel any of the fires of frustration that are burning in some other member states.
This article is part of a series of views on the portfolios and the people of the new European Commision, including Josef Janning's article on the importance of the new cluster structure. For the full collection, go here.
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