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News & opinion

What to expect from the Juncker Commission

22 Oct 2014

With today's vote in the European Parliament to confirm the Juncker Commission now a formality there are no barriers to the 'executive branch' of the EU starting work on 1 November, as planned.

The absence of any delays - despite a couple of hiccups along the way - is a strong indicator of Juncker's adeptness at coalition-building and the art of the Brussels political compromise, skills he has honed over twenty years at the heart of the EU.

What can we expect from the Juncker Commission?

With Commissioners and Vice Presidents only now able to give the policy agenda their full attention after a six-week beauty parade in front of MEPs, it is inevitable that there are still plenty of gaps in the detailed programme. But the direction of travel seems clear and it will be largely familiar.

There will not be a wholesale change of direction or jettisoning of the Barroso / Barnier agenda. Legislative proposals that were put on the table by the outgoing Commission will be reviewed, but we should expect Juncker to take comparatively few of them off the table. There may be some withdrawals in the spirit of the 'better regulation' agenda for which Vice President Timmermans is responsible but there will not be a 'Year Zero' break with past - proposals such as the Structure of Banking or the Financial Transaction Tax will remain under negotiation.

In many areas the legacy of Barroso / Barnier could not be escaped even if there was an ambition to do so. There are still scores of Level 2 measures to be agreed - the detailed technical rules and implementing decisions that give substance to an AIFMD or a MiFID; there is an international financial reform agenda under the auspices of the G20 and the FSB that will need to be worked through and some of the Barnier measures - not least AIFMD - will come up for review under the mandate of this Commission.

A conservative estimate is that at least 50% of the work of the new Commission in the area of financial services policy will be a continuation of the previous agenda.

That still leaves plenty of scope for new initiatives and thinking, and the EP hearings process has given us some indicators of likely themes and priorities.

Prospective Commissioners consistently stressed 'investment' as a key goal and in particular mobilising private sources of capital. With national public sector budgets likely to remain constrained by both markets and EU rules (though interpretation of the latter by Commissioner Moscovici will become a new spectator sport for Brussels-watchers) and the EU budget still small and largely earmarked already for farmers and regional spending, the Commission seem to have appreciated that they need the private sector to invest. Whether in Europe's infrastructure (where the Ukraine crisis has reiterated the need for a more secure energy supply network) or in its SMEs, Commissioners were lining up during the hearings to stress the need for Europe to invest.

A ‘Jobs, Growth and Investment’ package is promised within the Commission's first three months, with the figure of 300bn euro being talked of (though whether this is 'new' money or an exercise in recycling is unclear), and the much-discussed Capital Markets Union is also driven in large part by the need to find ways to get capital flowing to Europe's businesses without having to rely on banks.

For private equity this change of emphasis (for all the reasons cited above it would be wrong to talk of a change of direction) provides some real opportunities. The industry's ability to channel private capital to thousands of businesses, most of whom are SMEs, surely makes it part of the story. And both Lord Hill (financial services) and Carlos Moedas (Research) mentioned private equity, including venture capital, explicitly as having a role to play.

What then should the industry propose to feed this appetite for new thinking?

First, the better regulation agenda needs to be taken seriously. The new Commission structure, with powerful Vice Presidents, provides the best opportunity yet to change the organisation's culture away from a 'regulation first' attitude, but it will need decisive leadership. If the Commission is serious about promoting private sector investment in Europe's infrastructure and its businesses it needs to appreciate just how critical the regulatory framework is to that ambition.

Second, we can use public money better. The EU budget may be relatively small but it can play an important catalysing effect. Used correctly it can leverage in private money, rather than driving it out and replacing it. This might involve tough decisions on reallocation of spending and drastically scaling back established projects.

Finally the Commission needs to support Europe at the heart of a global capital market. While there is much that can be done to improve flows of capital across and between the EU 28 we must not lose sight of the opportunities presented by global markets. Investors around the world still look on Europe as a great place to invest but while focusing on a Capital Markets Union we should also keep our eye on the prize offered by increasing global cooperation. The 'M' is as important as the 'U' in CMU.

Michael Collins, Deputy Chief Executive and Public Affairs Director, EVCA

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