24 Jun 2015   |   News

Juncker shuffles EU top bureaucrats

European Commission announces changes at the top of its ICT, health, education and industry departments. Research and energy dodge the bullet.


The European Commission announced Wednesday plans for shaking up the ranks of its top civil servants. New changes see 11 out of 33 directors-general shuffling to another department or taking on new responsibilities – including changes at the top of digital, health, education and industry departments.

Brussels had been buzzing with rumours – mostly false, as it turns out – for weeks as EU-watchers tried to second-guess the long-expected reshuffle, following the appointment last November of a new College of Commissioners, the EC’s highest officers. The directors-general rank second in the hierarchy, with one assigned to each department. The changes matter: The Commissioners set overall policy, but it’s the Directors-General who develop and implement it.

The biggest surprise in the reshuffle is the departure of Robert Madelin, a well-regarded British civil servant, from the helm of the department for Communications Networks, Content & Technology, or DG Connect. He is to become an ‘adviser on innovation’ – a newly-created position – at the Commission’s youthful in-house think tank, the European Political Strategy Center (EPSC). He is to be succeeded at Connect by one of his deputies, Roberto Viola. The switch reflects the heavy political emphasis that EC President Jean-Claude Juncker has placed on reviving Europe’s ICT industry, in the face of stiff international competition.

Another surprise was a change that didn’t happen: Robert-Jan Smits stays on as Director-General for Research and Innovation, in charge of the EU’s third largest spending category. The gossip mill in Brussels had him, at various times, moving to Connect, industry, transport – or even leaving the Commission for a top job in his native Dutch government. In the end, several sources said, EU Research Commissioner Carlos Moedas asked Juncker to leave Smits in place, to execute the increasingly difficult Horizon 2020 programme.

Industry reorganisation

One important change in the innovation area is the industry department, now called DG GROW. Daniel Calleja Crespo, who has been leading the Directorate-General for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs since February 2012, will take on a new role at the directorate-general for the Environment (DG ENVI). In the EU pecking order, environment is a lower-profile DG than GROW; that’s because another of Juncker’s main policy thrusts has been to promote industry and the single market –policy areas in which GROW has a leading role.

Calleja is to replace at DG Environment Karl Friedrich Falkenberg, who was appointed senior adviser for sustainable development at the EPSC. At DG GROW, Calleja will be replaced by Lowri Evans, who has been promoted from the much smaller DG for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE). It was on the cards, with insiders saying the parameters of MARE were too limiting for her ability.

Another change: Xavier Prats Monné moves from the education and culture directorate (DG EAC) to the health and food safety department (DG SANTE). While not one of Juncker’s top priorities, the DG became a political football last year when the President proposed moving control of healthcare industry policy from the health DG to DG GROW. After a fuss in the European Parliament, Juncker backed down.

The moves are effective from 1 September but it seems that the reshuffling process is not yet through, as a Commission statement vaguely adds: “three Director-General posts and 10 Deputy Director-General posts will be published in the near future.” 

Shuffling criteria

In Brussels, it’s considered good practice to rotate the top tier of bureaucrats every five years. A modest game of musical chairs was foretold by Juncker, who informed a college of Commissioner meeting on 18 March 2015 that in certain cases it is preferable to choose the stability offered by high-performing teams over the “strict and automatic application” of staff shuffling rules. A full 23 directors-general retain their place. Among the non-changes were Dominique Ristori, Director-General for Energy, and Vladimir Sucha, Director-General for the Joint Research Centres.

The criteria guiding the shuffle are not very clear, but Juncker told the college meeting that balancing geography, gender and personal preferences was important.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the announcement is the meagre effort to bring gender balance to the EU’s top jobs. Big departments such as the Secretariat-General, Competition, Economic and Financial Affairs, Trade, Energy and Digital will all have men at the controls.

For now, there are only seven women directors-general, far behind the target set by Juncker when he promised to bring the share of female managers up to 40 per cent by the end of his mandate.

Juncker reiterated his commitment towards the goal.

“There are still too few women among our senior managers,” Juncker said in a statement. “It remains my firm intention to change that during my mandate.”

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