EU Health Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis likened British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to former Russian President Boris Yeltsin in a blog post published on the website of the Commission. The point of contention is not so much about the comparison itself as it is that Andriukaitis is abusing his bureaucratic office for political purposes.
A political Commission?
The question of whether or not the Commission is political should essentially be solved by the inherent nature of the job. EU Commissioners are political appointees, making them bureaucrats. Their job description does not contain a disclaimer allowing them to make political statements beyond the purview of the area to which they were appointed. The example of Andriukaitis, however, is not the first time that politicisation of the EU’s executive has made the news.
Politicisation has gone so far as to include commissioners endorsing national candidates, such as Neelie Kroes (Competition) backing Angela Merkel in the 2005 German elections and Margot Wallström (Institutional Relations & Communication Strategy) supporting Ségolène Royal in the 2007 French elections. Wallström defended herself, claiming that the EU has to become more political. Wallström has been notorious for engaging in debate and politics and was the first commissioner to start her own blog. Notably, neither Kroes nor Wallström were reappointed to the position of Commissioner in the following legislature.
In 2005, the New York Times wrote about the Kroes incident: “It is rare for a European Commissioner to intervene so overtly in a national political contest — and especially rare for a commissioner of one nationality to intervene in the affairs of another country.”
Ever since, politicisation of the Commission has been avoided as an unwritten rule. This is also why incumbent Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker decided against the Commission campaigning in the UK’s Brexit referendum in 2016.
Andriukaitis sees it differently
In his blog post titled “Boris, you are wrong,” the Lithuanian Commissioner wrote:
“Why am I writing about the UK election? Will I not be accused of going beyond my prerogatives? The first reason is that I am directly responsible for public health and food safety in the EU. After all, the UK is still in the EU and I cannot be silent when both the EU and our food safety standards are being subjected to slander. The second reason is that, within my remit, I am responsible for the practical implementation of the sanitary and phytosanitary standards criteria, and it is very easy to sow people’s mistrust of the official food safety system in the EU. The third reason, is that this Commission is political. I still think it was a mistake not to take part in the discussion with the UK people during the referendum on the withdrawal campaign, but that’s history.”
However, the website of the European Commission is not supposed to be a platform for the Commissioner’s political priorities. He was able to express his political opinions when he ran in the Lithuanian presidential election in May of this year where he received 4% of the vote.
The website of the European Commission isn’t an open forum in which every Values4Europe blogger can participate; t is a platform where citizens get information about current proposals for directives or inform themselves about the executive action that Berlaymont is taking. If Andriukaitis wants to ignore the common courtesy of refraining from commenting on an election in a different country (especially prior to the actual election), then that is apparently his prerogative. However, abusing official communication channels of the EU for his political opinion crosses the line of how Commissioners should be allowed to operate.
This article was first published by Values4Europe.
Pictures are Creative Commons.
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