So what will the European Parliament do with the proposed Juncker Commission? There are two subjects that continue to occupy me politically: women and justice. It is through this lens that I have viewed the nomination and initial portfolio distribution of the new European Commission. All the individual Commissioners now face hearings in the Parliament. The Parliament can legally reject the lot or it can go through a charade of the various political families picking individual victims from each other’s nominations. The latter is not an edifying spectacle.
I cannot accept that proportionately this Commission has less women than the last. Yes, of course it has the same number numerically, that is just nine. So we are told it is ‘just about acceptable’. However, the Commission is now larger with the addition of a new member state, Croatia. So after all the noise about gender balance there seems to be a deafening silence. This should be a defining issue, one where the Parliament could and should take an obvious and determined stand; not just pick away at political opponents to fudge the numbers at the edges.
I remember last time, before the nominations were closed, orchestrating a demonstration of women MEPs from across the centre left political spectrum which attracted huge media attention when we gathered outside the Council building dressed in ties and bowler hats!
This manifestation and the publicity that went with it arguably facilitated the appointment of Catherine Ashton and others. Where is the action this time in the Parliament? It needs to be obvious and clear cut to send a political message about the type of Europe we want to see and at the moment the one I see from here still looks very male and does not respect equality.
Justice was always my major policy consideration and equality is a justice issue. Credit where credit is due, Juncker has put together a very novel and interesting approach to the organisation of his Commission. In terms of the Justice portfolio, this will mean Timmermans as Vice President will have oversight with responsibility for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations and the Rule of Law including the Charter. In terms of ensuring ‘justice’ across the piece and getting people out of their organisational silos this sounds brilliant. I just worry that the emphasis is on Better Regulation and cutting red tape, with ‘justice’ bringing up the rear. This at a time when many commentators are tending towards a view that the deficit the EU faces is not now so much a ‘democratic’ one as a ‘justice’ one. That is the sense that the law-making process should be both just and fair, as should be the law that is produced. Parliament should take note of this. As legislator it should ensure that its own legislation is fair and just, not wait for the courts to pick up the pieces.
It will be interesting to see how the Parliament rises to the challenge of the new portfolio split in the area of Justice. The Commissioner nominated to the Justice portfolio, Jourova, will have to split herself between four parliamentary committees given that she now has responsibility for consumers. She may have a view across the piece but will parliamentarians be equally joined-up? In some ways it is good to put ‘consumers’ with justice but in others ways not. The Parliament’s former Legal Affairs and Internal Market Committee was arguably a better formation than the current split. However, I worry that in the letter to Jourova from Juncker there is not one clear articulation of the words ‘civil and commercial justice’ in terms of the rights of citizens and enterprises. Are they consumers and businesses only? ‘Justice for growth’ was not a bad headline in the old Commission and it still seems to be there – just about.
Good law, respected law, has to be just law, not merely free of red tape and fair not only in the sense of consumer rights. It demands a wider vision of the sort of civil and commercial relations we want to facilitate and promote across our continent . Arguably this task is undermined at the first pass when the group that is presented to lead and undertake it looks so ‘unjust’ in terms of its make-up.