It looks like yet another member of the von der Leyen may be set to jump ship.
Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, is currently being touted as the main centre-left candidate for Finland’s presidential election, and is reported to be flirting with the possibility.
However, the EC’s spokespeople came in for tough questions on August 4, as they were asked if they believed the EU could rely on her while she appears to be drawn into national politics.
“Yes… the answer is yes,” spokesman Johannes Bahrke said, “Commissioner Urpilainen is a full member of the college, and she has her brief, and she is active in that role, and if the situation changes we treat it as it comes.”
Yet the question of a Commissioner’s commitments between the EU and national politics is a grey area, and is becoming more and more a hot topic for the institutions.
Commissioners are by their nature prominent politicians, each nominated by the Member States and approved by the European Parliament.
On one hand, they are entitled to participate in national or even local politics, and to hold party memberships. On the other, if they intend to stand for election, they are expected to stand down from their work on unpaid temporary leave. They are also require to “abstain from making public statements or interventions on behalf of any political party or organisation… of which they are members”.
Urpilainen was put forward as a Presidential candidate by Finland’s ex-Prime Minister Sanna Marin during a summer meeting of the Social Democratic Party of Finland.
Taking to x (ex-Twitter) Urpilainen thanked Marin for the nomination calling it “an honour”. She said she was “considering the candidacy” and would “announce [her] decision by November.”
Harkitsen ehdokkuutta ja selvitän sen yhteensovittamisen nykyisen tehtäväni kanssa. Ilmoitan päätöksestä marraskuuhun mennessä. pic.twitter.com/IwNrPZRNaf
— Jutta Urpilainen (@JuttaUrpilainen) August 16, 2023
Yet as pointed out by a journalist Vince Chadwick, this would mean over two months of limbo, and in the meantime the EU also had major commitments. These included a meeting with the World Bank “where the Breton-Woods system will be rewritten”, the G20 summit, and a UN general assembly.
He likewise pointed out that “by saying you’re being asked to run by the President of your party, you create two-and-a-half months of people talking about whether you’d be a good president of Finland”. This he added was effectively a “political tactic”, suggesting that despite the EC’s confidence in Urpilainen’s commitment to her job, her mind be elsewhere.
A similar debate circled around the EC’s Green Deal Czar, Commissioner Timmermans, who is currently heading up the Dutch centre-Left’s campaign ahead of the Netherlands’ snap elections in November. Between the first rumours, and his official declaration, Timmermans spent some weeks the EU institutions in limbo.
This comes as many of the EC’s heavy-hitters appear to be leaving the ship as it enters into its a crucial final run, before 2024 EU elections.
Besides Timmermans, there is also Commissioner Vestager, who is running for the head position at the European Investment Bank. Additionally there is former Commissioner Mariya Gabriel of Bulgaria, who has since left to become Deputy Prime Minister of her country.
With the Commission keen top get several flag-ship laws finished before the elections, including the EU’s new migration pact and several parts of the Green New Deal, the possible desertion of yet another Commissioner could spell trouble.
As previously reported by the Brussels Signal, Urpilainen had fumbled an EU-Latin America forum, where moderators were unable to speak Spanish. On the occasion Commissioner had apparently breezed through, giving a quick talk with “zero emotion or depth”, before quickly vanishing again.