The phrase the ‘King is dead, long live the King’ is often assumed to apply to the seamless transition of the British monarchy. However its origins were in France in the 1400s, and in Brussels such a transition took place on 1st November. Much as some there might like it to be, a new European Commission is not a monarchy, but the officials who will rule the EU for the next five years slipped seamlessly into power, just before a public holiday for All Saints Day.
The change is a case of goodbye Jose Manuel Barroso and hello Jean-Claude Juncker. Before he finished his term Mr Barroso dropped a few bombshells in the UK, querying whether David Cameron could change immigration policy, and then landing the UK with a £1.7 billion top-up bill. It is doubtful if Mr Barroso, a former prime minister of Portugal, will be greatly missed. The best that can be said is that his Commission did not collapse over scandals, as others have. But it did preside over the collapse of the euro, which this year delivered the lowest growth of any global economy.
For the incoming Jean-Claude Juncker this really has to be a case of ‘things can only get better’, as Tony Blair promised in 2007, since they cannot get any worse on the financial front. This is why he has made jobs and growth his priority, and for the CAP this is linked to reducing red tape and getting some policy implementation and decision-making back to Member States from Brussels.
It would be wrong to let the outgoing farm commissioner, Dacian Ciolos, slip into political obscurity without commenting on his time in the job. He was the first farm commissioner from a new Member State and came from one of the poorest, Romania. He went having delivered a CAP reform deal that will change the shape of farm support for years to come. The deal is far from perfect, and that will be tested when the policy is reviewed in 2017. The number of issues on the table then will be the measure of success or failure, not least over greening.
Even after five years in Brussels Mr Ciolos remained politically naïve. His background was as a civil servant, rather than someone used to the cut and thrust of politics. It was ultimately politics back home in Romania that sank his chances of a second term, reflecting his inability to play politics in Brussels or Bucharest. He lacked the natural humour of many of his predecessors, and he never seemed fully at home when meeting farmers or politicians. From start to finish he was more of a technocrat than a politician and that is how he will be remembered.
If Mr Ciolos lacked political experience the same certainly cannot be said of his successor, Phil Hogan. The new farm commissioner, nominated by Fine Gael – the main party in Ireland’s coalition government – is well used to the often nasty cut and thrust of Irish politics. He comes from a farming area and represented it in the Irish parliament. He was involved with an auctioneering business, and with a brother farming he will not be short of advice from him or the influential Irish Farmers Association about the things he should be doing.
Like other commissioners, he has been told that jobs, growth and cutting red tape are his priorities. Time will tell whether he can deliver on these. But if he does that, produces a workable mid-term review of the Ciolos reforms and prepares the ground well for the post 2020 CAP reforms, he will certainly be judged at home in Ireland and elsewhere to have been a good farm commissioner.