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R&D and education commissioner posts set to be combined

Image: EU2017EE Estonian Presidency [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

The woman likely to head the next European Commission has announced that she wants to combine the jobs of research commissioner and education commissioner into a single role, to be held by current digital commissioner Mariya Gabriel.

Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen announced her plans on 10 September, assigning roles to politicians who had been nominated by national governments for commissioner posts. If confirmed in their roles, these individuals will oversee policy decisions for the Commission’s next five-year term, which starts on 1 November.

But no commissioner will have the words ‘research’ or ‘science’ in the title of his or her portfolio under von der Leyen’s plans. Instead, Gabriel will be given a portfolio titled Innovation and Youth.

This will have two subsections: education, research and innovation; and culture, youth and sport. Details of how the Commission’s R&D and education directorates-general might be reorganised are expected at a later date.

“Education, research and innovation will be key to our competitiveness and our ability to lead in the transition to a climate-neutral economy and new digital age,” von der Leyen’s mission letter to Gabriel says. “Your task over the next five years is to harness this potential and to ensure that education, research and innovation help us deliver on our ambitions and wider objectives.”

She stressed that Gabriel would be expected to contribute to industrial strategy and make the most of the missions that will be a crucial part of the next R&D funding programme Horizon Europe.

In line with von der Leyen’s pitch to MEPs to secure the post of president, she has asked Gabriel to support a tripling of the budget for the EU’s Erasmus+ education mobility programme for 2021-27. The Commission has been pushing for a doubling of the budget, which is around €15 billion for 2014-20.

If confirmed in the post, Gabriel will replace research and innovation commissioner Carlos Moedas and education, culture, youth and sport commissioner Tibor Navracsics, both of whom have held their roles since 2014 but are leaving the Commission in October.

Gabriel has been digital commissioner since 2017, when she became Bulgaria’s commissioner after Kristalina Georgieva left the Commission to become chief executive of the World Bank.

All of the commissioner nominees will now be questioned by the European Parliament, and the group as a whole will then be subject to a single vote of consent by the Parliament.

More to follow.