Nearly four years ago now, on 24th February 2010, in the Brussels European Parliament, Nigel Farage asked Herman Van Rompuy that famous question:

We were told that, when we had a President, we’d see a giant global political figure… Well, I’m afraid what we got was you… And I don’t want to be rude, but… but you know, really, you have the charisma of a damp rag, and the appearance of a low-grade bank clerk… The question that we’re all going to ask is: who are you?

But, it also bears asking that question of the 28 European Commissioners. Are they, at least, giant European figures? Are they damp rags or low-grade clerks; are they something better than that, or what? We thought we’d do some research and find out the facts on their background.

For a start, the system is that each of the 28 EU countries can have a Commissioner. Germany (16% of EU population) has one (Günther Oettinger, Energy). Also, little Malta (0.1%) has one as well (Tonio Borg, Health). This last “giant” has a degree in Law, and worked as a Human Rights Lawyer and Politician – and this man is responsible for Health across the EU?

We might get suspicious about their politics too and the cries of “a bunch of socialists, I bet ” can be heard. Actually, no, 7 are socialists, 6 are liberals, 11 are conservative/centre-right and 4 are apolitical. However, the fact that they are party members is questionable – British civil servants are not permitted to be members of parties.

Let’s look at what their qualifications are. Some are multi-disciplined but 8 have law degrees, 11 have economics degrees and there are other useful qualifications such as sociology, journalism, philosophy, literature and history. Only five have qualifications in what we would call “practical” subjects, such as Teaching, Physics, Business, Chemical Engineering and Horticultural Engineering. And did they use their degrees practically? Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, the Irish Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science (Teaching) did teach for a while then became a politician. Maria Damanaki, the Greek Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner went straight into politics and she’s clearly not appropriately qualified for the job. Dacian Ciolos, the Romanian Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development is the only one (of ALL the Commissioners) whose qualification (Horticultural Engineering) matches his career and appointment, and is also apolitical, so a good choice – the only one.

Turning to their life experience, some have mainly been politicians, some have been political activists of one sort or another, and a few apolitical – a rather mixed bag. Given that they are there doing the job, and affecting our lives on a daily basis (although we would rather they weren’t) what would we want of these people, politically? One has to say that ideally civil servants should be apolitical. However, they behave as if they are elected, the way Barroso and Ashton carouse across the world, “representing” the peoples of the European Union. The present situation is a fudge, pretending they are politicians when they not elected, but putting them in jobs which ought to be apolitical.

Oh, and the renumeration for this lot? The President gets  €293K a year basic, Cathy Ashton on €276K, the Vice-Presidents (shown as VP below) on €265K and the others €239K. Value for Money? Given the power they wield, perhaps justified, but should relative nobodies like these people be paid that much?

The table below gives you the low-down on all of them. At the end of the day we want rid of them, but for now we must keep on asking the question:

Who are you, and by what right do you govern us?

Commissioner /Nation Appointment Education Career Political Background
José Manuel Barroso (Portugal) President Law Politician ex-Maoist, Social Democratic Party
Catherine Ashton (United Kingdom) High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy & VP Sociology Political Activist never elected ex-CND, Labour
Viviane  Reding (Luxembourg) Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship & VP Human Science Politician CSV (christian democrat)
Joaquín  Almunia (Spain) Competition & VP Law & Economics Trade Union PSOE (socialist worker)
Siim  Kallas (Estonia) Transport & VP Finance Administrator, Politician ex-Communist, ERP (free-market liberal)
Neelie  Kroes (Netherlands) Digital Agenda & VP Economics Father’s transport company, Politician VVD (conservative-liberal)
Antonio  Tajani (Italy) Industry and Entrepreneurship & VP Law Air Force Officer, Journalist, Politician The People of Freedom (centre-right)
Maroš  Šefcovic (Slovakia) Inter-Institutional Relations and Administration & VP Law, Economics & international relations Diplomat ex-Communist?, none now
Olli  Rehn (Finland) Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro Economics, international relations & journalism Politician Centre
Janez Potocnik (Slovenia) Environment Economics Academic ex-Communist?, none now
Andris Piebalgs (Latvia) Development Physics Teacher ex-Communist, Latvian Way (centre-right-liberal)
Michel Barnier (France) Internal Market and Services Business Politician UMP (centre-right)
Androulla Vassiliou (Cyprus) Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Law Lawyer, Politician United Democrats (liberal)
Algirdas Šemeta (Lithunia) Taxation, Customs, Statistics, Audit and Anti-Fraud Maths & economics Civil Servant ex-Communist?, none now
Karel De Gucht (Belgium) Trade Law Lawyer, Politician VLD (Flemish liberal)
Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (Ireland) Research, Innovation and Science Teaching Teacher, Politician Fianna Fáil (centre-right)
Janusz Lewandowski (Poland) Financial Programming and Budget Economics Lecturer, writer, researcher, Politician CV (centre-right)
Maria Damanaki (Greece) Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Chemical Engineering Politician ex-Communist, PASOK (socialist)
Kristalina Georgieva (Bulgaria) International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Economics, politics, sociology Academic, World Bank, never elected GERB (centre-right)
Günther Oettinger (Germany) Energy Law & Economics Lawyer/auditor, Politician CDU (centre-right)
Johannes Hahn (Austria) Regional Policy Philosophy Activist, civil servant, never elected ÖVP (conservative)
Connie Hedegaard (Denmark) Climate Action Literature & History Politician, Journalist Conservatives
Štefan Füle (Czech Republic) Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy Philosophy & International Relations Diplomat, never elected CSSD (social democrat)
László Andor (Hungary) Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Economics Economist, Editor, never elected MSZP (socialist)
Cecilia Malmström (Sweden) Home Affairs Political Science Researcher, Lecturer, never elected FP (liberal)
Dacian Ciolos (Romania) Agriculture and Rural Development Horticultural Engineer Civil Servant (in Agriculture) none
Tonio Borg (Malta) Health Law Human Rights Lawyer, Politician Nationalist (conservative)
Neven Mimica (Croatia) Consumer policy Economics Diplomat, Politician SDP (social democrat)

Note: Herman van Rompuy is  the first full-time President of the European Council, which is the institution of the European Union (EU) comprising the heads of state or government of the EU member states, he is not a Commissioner.