Head of Simson cabinet at European Commission to be announced within month

Candidate for European Commissioner Kadri Simson (Centre).
Candidate for European Commissioner Kadri Simson (Centre). Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

The head of cabinet for Kadri Simson, who has been nominated as Estonia's European Commissioner, is expected to be announced in mid-September.

"I haven't made my decision yet regarding my head of cabinet, and I won't do so either until I know what portfolio I will be assigned," Simson told ERR on Monday.

The allocation of portfolios between Commissioners will be decided by Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the next European Commission, who is only just meeting with member states' candidates for Commissioner. Italy has yet to determine its candidate, as its government is dealing with internal conflict. Following her meeting with von der Leyen at the beginning of August, Simson told ERR that the allocation of portfolios can be expected early next month.

Early this month, daily Eesti Päevaleht (EPL, link in Estonian) wrote that Stefano Grassi, who is currently serving as head of cabinet for High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, may end up Simson's head of cabinet. Simson declined to speculate over Grassi or other possible candidates for the position on Monday, however she did stress the importance of the competence and trustworthiness of candidates for the position.

Other relevant sources to speak to ERR on Monday but who wished to remain anonymous also highlighted the importance of the trusting relationship between a Commissioner and their head of cabinet.

"This is always a Commissioner's on decision," said one source. "It is important for the Commissioner that their head of cabinet is competent and that they have a trusting relationship with their superior. By competent I mean that the head of cabinet has to know their issue as well as the Brussels context to ensure that they can back their Commissioner as well as communicate as equals with other heads of cabinet."

Asked whether a Commissioner's head of cabinet should be from the same country as the Commissioner themselves, these sources found that more important than citizenship are their experience and ability to do their job.

While in most cases, a Commissioner and their head of cabinet are from the same country, this is not always the case. For example, of the current European Commission, Latvian Commissioner Valdis Dombrvskis has never had a Latvian head of cabinet. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, himself from Luxembourg, has a head of cabinet from Spain.

Grassi an experienced official

Grassi, Mogherini's current head of cabinet, is an experienced Italian official who first began work in the European Commission in 2004. He has served as adviser on EU affairs to two Italian prime ministers — Mario Monti and Enrico Letta — as well as for a shorter stint in Juncker's cabinet.

Thus it is unlikely that Grassi will be facing a panicked job-hunt as Mogherini leaves office on Oct. 31, sources told ERR. If he agrees to serve as head of Simson's cabinet, the Estonian Commissioner will need to be assigned an important portfolio. This assessment also casts doubt on a claim published by EP implying that Simson would be offering Grassi a position as head of cabinet in return for the fact that a Mogherini-led administration recently appointed two Estonians — Matti Maasikas and Riina Kionka — EU foreign representatives which, considering Estonia's small size, can be considered a significant success.

The size of a European Commissioner's cabinet is determined at the beginning of a new Commission term, but typically consists of six members. As a rule, either the head or deputy head of cabinet are of a different nationality than their Commissioner, no more than three cabinet members may be from the same country, and at least two must be women.

Of Estonia's previous Commissioners, Siim Kallas and Andrus Ansip's heads of cabinet were Henrik Hololei and Juhan Lepassaar, respectively.



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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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