The Waltz of the Candidates

Article published on Feb. 21, 2004
community published
Article published on Feb. 21, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Public opinion still doesn’t really know who they are. But they are soon to be European Commissioners. Who are they? The candidates proposed by the new Member States.

On February 5th, everything was set. When the names of the last two candidates to sit in the Commission of the European Union (proposed by Cyprus and the Czech Republic respectively) were made known, the list of the ten new Commissioners was complete. But for some countries, finding the ideal candidate had been something of a challenge…

Women: the privilege of virtuous countries?

The Commission demanded that at least three women were put forward. Already, things were shaping up to be bothersome. Only the Nordic countries, where emancipation is already well advanced, fulfilled this demand without difficulty. Lithuania proposed its Finance Minister, Dalia Grybauskaite; Latvia put forward its Foreign Affairs Minister, Sandra Kalniete. These countries dealt with the business so briskly that they were the first ones to present their candidates and thus proved, once again, their flawless desire to become integrated into Europe.

In Central Europe, the search for candidates was clearly more problematic. Their candidates could not have a Communist past and had to prove legitimacy on a national as well as European level. It was also preferable if the candidate was a Minister and knew several foreign languages. In short, this was such a headache that some countries even wondered if a candidate fulfilling all these criteria really existed.

Nevertheless, Poland managed to avoid this stumbling block. This country, aiming to become a heavy weight in the ‘new Europe’ to defend its viewpoints, had foreseen everything. They were relying on Danuta Hübner, a Professor of Economics with good experience of important positions, although she is not linked to any particular party.

Danita Hübner has a very complete political career. She made her debut in 1994, heading up the Ministry for the Economy and Technology where she was in charge of preparing the country to join the European Union. Later on, she led negotiations for the integration of Poland into the EU as Minister for Europe. Last year, she was a member of the Convention and was also crowned ‘Political Personality of the year’ by the magazine European Voice. Unsurprisingly, the Commission reacted positively to her nomination but her extremely close relations with Brussels are currently attracting ferocious criticism in Poland. The opposition is reproaching her for badly negotiating Poland’s entry conditions into the EU, notably concerning agriculture.

Mayhem in Slovakia; squabbles in the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic and Slovakia once again demonstrated their inability to react quickly to find solutions in matters of European integration. Internal political quarrels in both these countries prevented the choice of candidate being made on a rational basis. In Slovakia, two candidates were in contention: Jan Figel, a Christian-Democrat, and Ivan Stefanec, a candidate from the SDKU (the Slovak Democrat and Christian Union), the Prime Minister’s party. Stefanec, Manager of Coca-Cola, whose integrity is questioned by most Slovaks, was unable to assert himself against Figel. The Prime Minister was unable to support him for long faced with internal political pressure from his coalition. It is therefore Jan Figel, former Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, who has been put forward. He is very experienced in matters of European integration and led, like his future colleague Danita Hübner, entry negotiations into the European Union. He was also a member of the Convention. The population considers him to be one of their most capable politicians. Indeed, some people see him as a future President. For its part, the European Union also seems satisfied with his nomination. The Commission’s spokesperson, Jean-Christophe Filori, described Figel as a trustworthy person and an expert in European public policy.

In the Czech Republic, the candidate race quickly turned into a fight across the entire political landscape of the country. After the Prime Minister, Pidla, had proposed, totally unexpectedly, Milos Kuzvart, a not very popular Social-Democrat, voices were raised in secular circles. Barely had the announcement been made, when other members of the coalition kicked up a fuss about Kuzvart, who had nevertheless been the Czech Minister for the Environment between 1998 and 2002. These coalition partners threatened the party with reprisals in future votes but Kuzvart was kept despite everything, profiting from the leadership of the Social-Democrats in the Government. He certainly does not have great experience in matters of European politics but he also does not have a Communist past and, in the last Government, shared the progressive and pro-European tendency. There is nevertheless one surprising fact: he never put himself forward for European elections on the grounds that he ‘preferred internal politics’. In the European Union, this nomination has surprised more than one person since no one really knows who Kuzvert is. Nevertheless, Prodi has accepted taking Pidlas’ favourite without turning a hair.

How should duties be shared out?

But nothing has been decided yet. If Prodi accepts the nominated candidates, they will then have to be approved at the Summit of EU Ministers in March and then finally by the European Parliament. The first Commissioners from the new Member States will only be elected for six months. It is then that the responsibility of confirming the Commissioners in their posts will fall to the new President of the Commission. It is probable however that the current structure will remain. The new members will therefore first have to spend six months – not altogether disagreeably – in Europe’s political chrysalis. It is still not known which portfolio will be attributed to them after November’s elections, but it is probable that the areas of competence of Commissioners will be redefined at that time in order to give the new members something to get their teeth into.

Hopefully, governments have also expressed through their choice of candidates a certain notion of Europe based on a healthy scepticism vis-à-vis Eurocrates.