Jourová and Timmermans: unsatisfactory in Europeanness and solidarity
In 2019, Századvég Foundation, with the involvement of experts, compiled a democracy index, which assessed the performance of the then members of the European Commission in terms of transparency, efficiency and compliance with democratic principles towards the end of the term of the European Parliament. The Commission is the body of the European Union, which, in principle, is intended to act as guardian of the Treaties, but often makes political evaluations on individual Member States and their leaders, especially in terms of their democratic nature. However, the democratic commitment of the members of the Commission and their relationship to the basic values of democracy have not been examined before, despite the fact that members of the body do not hold their positions by election, i.e., by not democratic mandate. Századvég seeks to fill this gap by compiling a democracy index. Two years after the 2019 elections, the series of analyses will be relaunched, first by assessing the work of the two Vice-Presidents of the European Commission, Vera Jourová and Frans Timmermans.
The two Vice Presidents of the European Commission are repeatedly attacking the Member States of Central and Eastern Europe, and they are not even afraid of carrying out a witch hunt against us amid the 2020-21 pandemic. Last autumn, for example, Timmermans sent a message to sovereign, right-wing governments that “the rule of law is not the power exercised through legislation”. In March 2021, Jourová threatened Hungary and Poland in connection with the rule of law mechanism that they could later lose billions of euros in EU subsidies. Such irresponsible statements can deepen contradictions within the integration community, just when the widest possible cooperation is needed.
Although the Commission has exclusive right of initiative in few matters, it has a general collective responsibility for the professional decisions it takes. As the first Vice Presidents of the Commission responsible for implementation and decision-making, Timmermans and Jourová have a significant political responsibility for the half-successful management of the pandemic in the EU.
Below is a detailed professional evaluation on the work of Vera Jourová and Frans Timmermans so far, who were and are commissioners in the Commission led by both Jean-Claude Juncker and Ursula von der Leyen.
Vera Jourová (Czech)
Between 2014 and 2019, she was the Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, and she has been Vice President responsible for the Values and Transparency of the European Commission since 2019.
From 1 November 2014 to 30 November 2019, Vera Jourová was the European Commissioner responsible for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality in the Commission led by Juncker.
The confrontational Czech Commissioner has already had serious conflicts with some Member States in this term. For example, the Romanian authorities initiated proceedings against her and Frans Timmermans, the first Vice-President of the Commission, regarding the European Commission’s report on the rule of law in Romania. According to the Romanian party, false and unsubstantiated allegations were included in the document. However, in the absence of jurisdiction of the bodies concerned, the case was not pursued.
Following the 2019 EP elections, Jourová’s position of power was further strengthened. Since 1 December 2019, she has been the Vice-President of the Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen. In this capacity, she has been entrusted with the post of Commissioner responsible for Values and Transparency, so her portfolio also includes the rule of law.
Jourová had professional failures in her first and second term as Commissioner as well. The draft EU-US data flow agreement was rejected by the European Court of Justice on the grounds that it was not suitable for protecting Europeans’ personal data. It can also be seen as a failure of the Commissioner that the political smear campaign against Hungary and Poland led to a protracted budget debate, which made it difficult to conclude negotiations on the EU’s seven-year budget and the related Next Generation Recovery Fund in the period of the increasingly serious coronavirus crisis.
Jourová regularly launches political attacks on some Member States and politicians. In 2020, for example, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán was the target when she called Hungary a “sick democracy” and even went further at the beginning of the pandemic, saying that “it is the virus that must be destroyed, not democracy”. But beyond her direct responsibilities, she also disparaged world political actors, accusing China and US President Donald Trump personally of spreading disinformation.
Her statement that “the Commission will do its best to cure Hungary’s problems”, and if necessary, the budget support for the Central European country will be significantly reduced as well, also fit into this line.
Jourová’s statements of threatening tone would divide the community much more than deepen the cooperation and solidarity-based integration of European nations.
Vera Jourová’s terms of office as Commissioner do not seem to achieve her targeted professional goals and commitments. She has failed to make a breakthrough in improving the transparency, accountability and integrity of EU decision-making, which is still a key factor in overcoming criticisms of EU institutional transparency and the mistrust of European citizens.
The implementation of the Code of Practice on Disinformation, launched in the previous term and agreed with key online platforms in October 2018, would be a priority for the Czech Commissioner, as many claim that it has been a failure to curb censorship and double standards regarding hate speech on social media.
Based on all this, the question may rightly arise as to whether it was the best decision in the European Union – which aims at internal cohesion - that the rule of law and other similarly sensitive issues were assigned to Vera Jourová. The Czech Commissioner, even in her capacity as a Commissioner that requires independence as a condition, prefers to include politics in purely professional issues, and as a result generates and is in conflict with Member States, even in the midst of a pandemic.
Frans Timmermans (Dutch)
He has been the first Vice President of the European Commission since 2014 and Executive Vice President responsible for European Green Deal, Commissioner responsible for climate protection
Frans Timmermans, a Dutch politician and diplomat, has been the first Vice President of the European Commission since 1 December 2014, and in this capacity, he was Commissioner responsible for Justice and Home Affairs in the Commission led by Juncker between 2014 and 2019.
Commissioner Timmerman’s work is controversial: while in the 2017 Catalan independence referendum he considered police brutality against participants, in which hundreds were injured, to be proportional and acceptable, he always criticised the border protection measures taken by the Hungarian government during the migration crisis, including police presence, even though they were indeed proportionate and complied in all respects with the Fundamental Law and the legislation.
Timmermans – and Brussels in general – applies a double standard to the expectations of the prevalence of fundamental rights, most often in relation to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association or the situation of minority groups in Western Europe.
While Timmermans, as a member of a body that is overly executive compared to the spirit of the Treaties, emphasizes the importance of democracy and transparent decision-making, he tends to avoid the engine of EU legislation, the European Parliament.
He is reluctant to consult with transparent EU actors, but often negotiates with some less transparent actors outside the institutional system (e.g., lobby groups, NGOs). From a financial point of view, there are concerns about the systemic disregard for ethical decision-making standards and the lack of transparency in lobbying, which strongly affects the Commissioner’s office (according to some analysts, after Washington, Brussels is now the second centre of power for lobbying, but the overseas legal environment is much better regulated, for example, with regard to foreign agent organizations).
From professional point of view, Timmermans’ inconsistency – he is at most consistent in political sense – as a Commissioner diminished the prestige of his office, especially in the view of the leaders and public opinion of Central and Eastern European countries, and his activities, rather than deepening European integration, ultimately contributed to the aggravation of the EU’s current political divisions and internal crisis.
Between 2014 and 2019, Timmermans was unable to achieve his own goals and initiatives. He did not achieve better coordination of regulatory work and respect for the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality within the Commission, nor did the work of the Commission become more transparent in general, and the promotion of the new partnership with national parliaments also failed.
Timmermans maintained his position of power even after the departure of the President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker. Since 1 December 2019, he has been working in the European Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, as the first Vice President responsible for European Green Deal and as the Commissioner responsible for climate policy.
The deal, represented by Frans Timmermans, targeting climate neutrality in Europe by 2030 and 2050 is unprofessionally developed, and the expected costs of the objectives are unequally distributed among Member States, making it suitable for putting the Western and Eastern “blocs” within the EU against each other. It does not provide a clear answer to the serious concerns expressed (for example, by Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary regarding carbon dependence) about diversification and energy security. For example, Central European agriculture would be severely affected if at least a quarter of all agricultural land was taken away by 2030, i.e., compulsorily involved in organic production. In addition to professional elaboration, these concerns are also due to the fact that the Commission’s professional work on Timmermans’ portfolio often lacks impact assessments.
The coronavirus pandemic over the past year has shown how important it is to maintain the faith and trust of European citizens and how the lack of professionalism and political competence in the Commission, led by Timmermans as first Vice President, can lead to serious difficulties in times of crisis.
The research was carried out between 19 March and April 2, 2021. The methodology of the study was based on the method of quantitative text analysis, in which, in the case of Timmermans, a total of 523 (440+83) and in the case of Jourová, 509 (413+96) edited elements of the communication material - among other things, transcripts of speeches made by politicians, press releases, resolutions, and news published by the office - of the evaluated office of European Commissioners, generated between 2014 and 2019, and 2019 and 2021, were considered by Századvég as main aspects. During data collection, the survey focused on the transparency of spending in the given area of the Commissioner, the achievement of the objectives at the beginning of the term, efficiency depending on successful own initiatives, the success of adhering to EU core values, respect for nation state sovereignty, respect for the institution of direct democracy, efforts to deepen integration and to maintain the weight/influence of the relevant Commissioner’s field of expertise. The main purpose of the analysis was to allow measurement, i.e., to quantify the aspects and qualities examined in the research, and finally, to allow quantified analysis results expressed in terms of indicators. The use of the results of the content analysis was facilitated by the examination of the raw results by external experts – experts in the field of the EU official concerned – who also contributed to the evaluation with their general findings, own ratings and scores, and to the finalization of the high-reliability results of the research. For numerical expression of quantitative evaluation, Századvég used positive integers and decimal fractions ending in 5 on a measurement scale of 5.