Sunday, 29 January 2012

Commissioner Šefčovič balances relations between institutions

Maroš Šefčovič is Vice-President of the European Commission, responsible for the inter-Institutional portfolio. The Slovak Commissioner talked to Lucia Mrázová and European Stagiaires Journal about his current agenda, the past and future of the Commission, and about ensuring all citizens that the Commission does not distance itself from any of the Member States or any other institution.

Despite your young age, you have already had a successful diplomatic career, do you have a recipe for how to accomplish these achievements or how to become a Commissioner?

Maroš Šefčovič, Vice-President of the European Commission
Actually, I am not the youngest Commissioner; we had several others even younger. That I became a Commissioner at a relatively young age is very much related to the transformation that Slovakia went through. I started working for the Slovak Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993 and I was previously  a diplomat of Czechoslovakia. A very unusual thing happened to me and within a very short period of time, I had several postings in Africa, in Canada, in Israel and in Belgium. With the accession process of Slovakia to the EU, my work was  related to EU affairs. Being deeply involved in this process, I managed to build up a broad network of people in Slovakia and in Brussels. All this led to my appointment as Vice-President of the Commission, about fifteen years after I became involved in EU affairs.

What are the main challenges of your current agenda and daily life?

We have a lot of challenges. Especially this week, with the European Citizens Initiative platform, which marks a new beginning for the European participatory democracy. We are implementing new ways of communication between institutions and citizens. On one hand, it is a very exciting project and we encounter a lot of enthusiasm. But we also see a lot of scepticism. Notwithstanding this, we are looking forward to introduce this new tool that is supposed to attract young people via social media.

As you have mentioned, the European Citizens Initiative platform is a new tool in European democracy. How does the Commission intend to assure its availability as well as its visibility?

The process needs to be very simple. We wish to assure that the European Citizens Initiative platform keeps its citizen character, since it is an initiative for citizens. Therefore, we want seven people from seven countries to be able to register an initiative easily .

Some of the expenses of launching an initiative lie on the initiators, for example translation costs. Doesn't that discourage average people from submitting an initiative and rather allow bigger fishes to take part?

It will strongly depend on the activity of the citizens. Our task is to make it as simple as possible for them. Even the registration form is very simple and is restricted to several hundred characters. The other information needed is also relatively straightforward. We simply did not want to limit a room for initiative, thus translation will be a responsibility of the initiator. Obviously, when we notice that there is an elementary or essential issue with the translation, the Commission will help and notify the initiators. But we do not want to interfere in the registration itself, simply because it could evoke further questions as to who are we helping, and who we did not help.

Another current issue that we follow, especially in Brussels, is the discussion on Staff Regulation that you are in charge of. We have seen protests, we have seen frustration. How does this matter proceed?

Today, the process goes on within the Commission mostly. On May 30th, the Commission took note of the proposal of the staff regulation reform. And since then, we have launched a social dialogue with the staff union. We participated in about 18 working meetings and I have met with representatives several times. I believe it was beneficial for both sides. After all, the Commission officially approved this proposal at the December session. The proposal was sent to legislators, to the Parliament and to the Council, and currently we are involved in negotiations with the Parliament and the Danish Presidency on how to speed it up. By the end of this year, the salary method will expire, thus we try to adopt the proposal this year.

During times of crisis and with the current political situation in Europe, the Commission is often accused of being more politicized than ever before. Do you agree with this perception?

The Commission faces different accusations, depending on who you are talking with and which political opinion they have. The Commission is an institution sui-generis, it is a political body with pretty strong quasi-jurisdictional powers. We are obliged to fulfil those tasks included in the Treaty. I have to say that during college discussions, you would have difficulties to recognise political background of the speaker out of the performance. Most decisions are adopted unanimously. I think this stands for every commissioner, the main motivation is that his or her proposal fulfils the general interest of the EU. I believe that this switch was inevitable but at the same time, the Commission fulfils all tasks of regulator and technocratic manager of the European matters and it constantly gains new and new competencies.

As we have mentioned your young age, would you like to remain Commissioner or would you prefer to become the President of the Commission in the future?

Indeed, this question will come up in 2014. We will see, as we are currently just at halftime. The job that I have is extremely interesting and I am glad I have this opportunity here.

Would you be interested in any specific portfolio? Maybe you dream about something related to your personal preferences…

Today, I am just dreaming about how to deal with my current portfolio. This discussion will really come up in 2014 and we will see how the position of the Commission as such will change.

By Lucia Mrázová