EU Commissioner Louis Michel is taking time off to campaign for his party in the upcoming general election in Belgium. (He’s only the last name on the ballot, but still.) His colleague Margot Wallström, seriously close friend with the new leader of the Swedish Social Democrat opposition party Mona Sahlin, is going to start hammering out the party’s EU policy in the advent of the 2010 general election there – without taking time off from her role as Commissioner. All of this led to a string of questions from Swedish and Belgian journalists today.
“Of course”, the spokespeople said in unison when questioned if Ms Wallström’s party work was compatible with the Commission’s code of conduct. (What else would they say?) They are “political animals”, the journalists were told. And Mr Michel will return to his job once the election is over, they assured, in spite of Mr Michel himself being seriously ambivalent on the matter when questioned on TV recently.
For those of you who wonder, Commissioners are supposed to pledge allegiance to the EU, and promise to act in its interest. I personally doubt that they are strengthening the confidence people may have in them by sneaking out to their party headquarters in the middle of their terms, no matter what the code of conduct says. Either they work for the EU or they don’t. And how are we supposed to trust that Mr Michel’s and Ms Wallström’s respective parties aren’t given sensitive inside information to use in the elections? (After all, Ms Wallström’s main job is that of communication…)
Not to mention the fact that Ms Wallström will technically be actively working against the Swedish government, while dealing with it over EU matters.
The chap who is going to take over Mr Michel’s job is Olli Rehn. “Has he even been to Africa?” one journalist asked, and was told that he has been, er, working with foreign aid to Africa (but we still don’t know if he’s actually been there).
At the same time, the poor Romanian commissioner Leonard Orban is spending his days carrying the, ehrm, not-so-particularly-heavy portfolio of multilingualism, for which he is perpetually ridiculed in Brussels circuits, as the EU had basically run out of issues to commission by the time Romania joined the club. So now, one commissioner is doing two people’s jobs, while another is wasting away in a Mickey Mouse position.
There may be some wisdom in that…. but I’m not sure I can discern it.