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The von der Leyen Commission: Time to reset, regroup and get things done

European Commission / DISCUSSION PAPER
Georg Riekeles

Date: 13/09/2021
As Commission President Ursula von der Leyen prepares her State of the Union speech that will map out the second half of her mandate, she must seize the opportunity to reset her Com­mission after more than 18 months in crisis-fighting mode.

In broad lines, the European Commission’s priorities – fostering a collective recovery from the pandemic; rolling out Europe’s green, digital and geopolitical makeover – are the right ones. But today’s pace of change requires an updated outlook, fresh ideas and a critical examination of the President’s leadership, methods and structures.

Georg Riekeles lifts the veil and outlines three essential questions which guide a reflection on what this Commission now stands for:

  1. How does the Commission ensure a continued capacity for fresh thinking and renewal to direct the EU’s political agenda?
  2. Can the EU deal with the political fall-out from uncertainty, shocks and change?
  3. Is the Commission’s executive structure tailored to deliver the major tasks it faces?

With many strong personalities and seasoned politicians, von der Leyen’s Commission has potential, and yet much of its agenda remains undelivered. Now is the time for her administration to regroup and get things done in the final three years of her term.

The below five recommendations addressed to President von der Leyen outline what should be done to improve her leadership and administration’s delivery within the current legal and institutional framework and complete the mandate assigned to her by Europe’s leaders and the European Parliament:

  1. Establish independent thought and foresight, capable of challenging established ideas and structures, at the heart of the Commission’s leadership and policy agenda.
  2. Clarify responsibilities over priority deliveries in the next three years within the College, including her own working relationship and shared leadership with the (Executive) Vice-Presidents.
  3. Rethink the inter-institutional cooperation on major transformative EU projects, such as the Green Deal and digital transition, which must be co-constructed across institutions, from inception to adoption, through dedicated structures and processes. To better process member states’ political concerns, von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel should offer First Vice-President Frans Timmermans the ‘Barnier seat’ at the European Council.
  4. Experiment further with the task force model, relying on the dual leadership of a politician and a high-level civil servant that are given direct access to top staff and resources across the Commission to solve a specific mission.
  5. Provide immediate remedy to resource allocation problems in overburdened Directorates-General and enact a proper reform of staffing policies.

Read the full paper here.
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