The “Chefs du Cabinet” are instrumental in setting their Commissioners’ policy agendas and can wield a powerful influence in the prioritisation of policies. They lead the Commissioners’ Cabinets, which usually consist of about seven personal advisers, supported by administrative staff.
The Chefs’ responsibilities are threefold:
- First, they support their Commissioner on specific policy areas – with each Cabinet member responsible for their own specific portfolio. They also follow policy areas outside their Commissioner’s direct remit and prepare his or her position for the weekly College of Commissioners meeting.
- Second, they maintain relations with other Cabinets, Parliament, Council, the services of the Directorate-General and other institutional stakeholders.
- Lastly, and maybe most importantly, they are the political guardians of their Commissioners, making sure that their Commissioner is on the right side of major or contentious issues.
Chefs de Cabinets are expected to fight their Commissioners’ corner and to defend his or her interests, particularly in the intense lobbying that goes on between different Commissioners on the more controversial issues. A Chef must have standing, experience and sway with his colleagues.
An analysis of the Chefs’ names (2010) shows that, as previously, about one third of the Chefs come from the UK, France or Germany. Only three women have been put forward as Chefs. Of the 27 Chefs, 24 return from existing Cabinet positions, and 14 are currently Chefs. In many ways, the high number of returning Chefs, and presumably other returning Cabinet officials, is good for continuity, as all the 2010 Commissioners have been assigned new portfolios.
One interesting observation about the new portfolio division between Commissioners is that there are a number of policy areas with possibly overlapping competencies. For example, a number of responsibilities in the energy/environment/climate arena are not well-defined. Another area where this is the case is the digital/technology/ICT sphere. Cynics have suggested that these and other overlapping remits were purposely included, as a means of strengthening the hand of the President – where there are disputes, he can step in to deliver the final say.