By Philippe Bradley-Schmieg 

The European Parliament voted yesterday (October 22, 2014) to approve the President of the European Commission’s selections for his team of European Commissioners.

Jean-Claude Juncker’s picks received strong endorsement from MEPs, with 423 in favour, 209 against, and 67 abstentions.  Even so, he was forced to amend his proposal ahead of the vote after a few of his first picks failed to win over hostile MEPs during Parliamentary confirmation hearings.

The new Commissioners will take office on Monday, November 3rd, although questions remain over the division of authority within the new Commission with respect to privacy and data protection.

As recently previewed on this blog, Jean-Claude Juncker has set up a complex structure of overlapping portfolios, in the hope that this will, he says, lead the Commission to “work together as a strong team, cooperating across portfolios to produce integrated, well-grounded and well-explained initiatives that lead to clear results.”

Frans Timmermans will take the reins as First Vice President, with an umbrella portfolio covering “better regulation, inter-institutional relations, the rule of law and the Charter of Fundamental Rights.” As a result, he will oversee measures relating to privacy and data protection, rights protected under Articles 7 and 8 of Charter.

As Mr Juncker’s deputy, Frans Timmermans nominally oversees all Commissioners, but for the most part he is expected to have direct interaction with two Commissioners, namely Dimitris Avramopoulos, Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, and Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

Věra Jourová’s portfolio will include membership of the “team” of Commissioners tasked with pushing forward negotiations of the draft General Data Protection Regulation, which will overhaul the data protection framework that has been in place in the EU since 1995.

Sitting alongside Frans Timmermans will be Andrus Ansip, Vice-President for the “Digital Single Market.”  Andrus Ansip has been charged with overseeing the conclusion of negotiations on the reform of Europe’s data protection rules as well as the review of the Safe Harbour arrangement with the U.S., all within the next six months.  Andrus Ansip is nominally the “team leader” on the reforms, with Věra Jourová, Günther Oettinger and Dimitris Avramopoulos competing to be heard on the balance between fundamental rights, business freedoms and the powers of public authorities (e.g. state surveillance), respectively.

All will need to bear in mind Jean-Claude Juncker’s deputy, Frans Timmermans, whose mandate is to eliminate unnecessary red tape whilst ensuring respect of fundamental rights under the Charter.  Because of the complexity of the new Commission’s structure, Věra Jourová will have a direct channel to Timmermans, despite, on data protection reforms, falling under Andrus Ansip’s purview.

Jean-Claude Juncker has tasked his Commissioners with completion of negotiations of the General Data Protection Regulation in the next six months.  Those negotiations are a complex three-way affair between the assembly of MEPs, the European Council, and the Commission, and so to some extent are outside the Commission’s control.  Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether Mr Juncker has setup his own Commission for the speedy and efficient progress that will be needed, if his ambitions are to be achieved.