The new Commissioners: remembering Karel Van Miert
Speculation is mounting on who will do what in the next Commission (except for Barroso: that tragedy acts has already known its peak). Balkenende, Zapatero, Junckers, the brave Latvian woman Vaira Vike-Freiberga, and the list goes on and on… I happened to be at the Berlaymont building (the building that houses the offices of the Commissioners and their cabinets) yesterday, and noticed ex-Commissioner Figel entering the building and showing his ID card to the security guards in order to receive his “V” visitors’ sticker. That’s odd said someone: as if they don’t know him here.
Exiting the building, we then spent a couple of minutes chatting in front of the picture at the entrance that shows all the Commissioners and which is inserted at the top of this post (actually wondering why they made such a poor Photoshop job on the blueish background, when previous editions showed the nice wooden floors in Berlaymont?) and someone said: “With so many Commissioners now, it’s nearly impossible to keep all of them at their post for the full duration”.
That made me remember a conversation I had quite a few years ago with ex-Commissioner Karel Van Miert, at some event organised by a German firm, and at which he was keynote speaker in his capacity as academic and former Commissioner of Competition. I found myself somehow chatting one on one with him (the Flemish connection, maybe?) and he was very passionate as always and extremely outspoken. When I asked him what his thoughts were looking at the “new” Commission (Barroso I in those days), he said something that made a lot of sense to me and that re-surfaced in my mind in light of the current discussions. He basically explained that in his view, the reason the Commission was being less and less upfront and to a certain extent “pro-European” in his eyes, was because of the profiles of the current Commissioners versus the profiles of the initial Commissions. Basically, he told me: “The problem these days, is that being a Commissioner is part of the career plan, and that all of these candidates are still planning to go back to their home politics after their 5 year stint in Brussels…when that’s your objective, you can’t put your national interests aside…in my days” he added, “being a Commissioner was maybe not an exile, but clearly an “end-of-career” type move. Our countries sent us to Brussels so we’d stop being active at home, either as a reward or a punishment. But the result was the same: we did not have to wonder what the implications of each of our speeches or actions would have on our future career back home…we just said what we thought”.[please note these are not his exact words but a paraphrase of what he told me]
I liked Van Miert…I think I probably liked those former Commissioners more too!