New EU Commission – What’s in for the Regions?

€ 351.8 billion. That’s how much the EU has assigned to Cohesion Policy funds in the period 2014 – 2020. € 351.8 billion. The number shows that the Commission post for Regional Policy is more important than many assume. While the general public has an eye on posts for trade, budget, digitalization or security, the portfolio for regional policy is a secret gem. With nearly one third of the overall EU budget, the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF) largely shape our everyday life in the EU: Investments in infrastructure like roads and digitalization, renewable energy sources or projects in education and arts are aimed at supporting “job creation, competitiveness, economic growth, improved quality of life and sustainable development” [1] in the EU. Basically, these funds make the benefits of living in the EU most tangible.

So, while everybody is discussing the candidates for budget, digitalization, security etc. we took a closer look at those reaching for the Regional Policy portfolio. 

According to politico [2], there are currently two candidates interested in the role: Elisa Ferreira from Portugal and Janez Lenarčič from Slovenia. 

The Economist 

Elisa Ferreira has a long-standing economic expertise and is familiar with the European political circus: She studied and taught economics at the University of Porto. After seven years as Minister in the cabinets of António Guterres in Portugal, she joined the European Parliament in 2004 where she served as MEP until 2016. Throughout her time in the European Parliament she was a member of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs where she worked on recovery plans in response to the European financial crisis [3][4], addressed issues of the harmonization of national tax systems [5], or suggested a single mechanism for the resolution of credit institutions [6]. Her current role as Vice Governor of the Bank of Portugal complements the economist’s profile. Her focus on economic policies could be both benefit and drawback for the portfolio of regional policy.  

On the one hand, the regional policy portfolio requires substantive economic expertise: Balancing one of the largest shares of EU budget and overseeing its application is inherently an economist’s task. The future candidate must be aware of the lagging harmonization of national structures and wisely adapt investment funds to national differences. On the other hand, eligibility criteria for funds and mechanisms are a contested topic: Should investment be prioritized for regions with poor infrastructure and low levels of growth, employment or GDP? Or should prosperous regions like Bavaria in Germany also receive funding? This balancing act requires sensibility for economic, social and cultural differences as well as a vision for the role of the regions in a future Europe. 

While Ferreira has not yet worked specifically on regional issues on the European level, she is well versed in the EU’s economic structures and knows of the fundamental legal and political differences in the member states’ national systems. This could be a win for the Regional Policy portfolio. 

The Diplomat

In contrast to Ferreira’s political path, Janez Lenarčič gained his experience as a non-partisan diplomat. 

Trained in international law at Ljubljana University, he began his diplomatic career in 1992 with a post at the Permanent Mission of Slovenia to the UN in New York. Later, he served as advisor and State Secretary to the Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovšek and his successor Anton Rop, took over as Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), held the post as State Secretary for European affairs and oversaw Slovenia’s first EU presidency, and, most recently, was appointed as Slovenia’s permanent representative to the EU in July 2016 [7]. 

It can be assumed that Lenarčič’s career has equipped him with a view for the diversity of life in Europe. He can link the perspective of a small and young EU member state with the broader perspective on issues of democracy and human rights in the EU and beyond. This background can be of great advantage to the post as Commissioner for Regional Policy when individual regions and member states put forward their needs, while simultaneously, the Commissioner must regard the bigger picture of cohesion and harmonization. On the other hand, his lack of specific expertise in the field of economic or regional policy could be a drawback. 

Eventually, it may be safe to say that Elisa Ferreira is the more likely candidate to be assigned the portfolio for Regional Policy. Not only does she bring along the required economic background. Also, Slovenia has expressed equal interest for enlargement, energy and trade. And we should not forget that the EU is known for surprise candidates who we might not have thought of at all. Anyways, we will know more by Tuesday 10 September when Ursula von der Leyen is set to reveal the 27 Commissioners and their portfolios.




[1] EU Commission – Regional Policy:

[2] Bayer, L (2019, September 9): “The next European Commission: What we know so far”, Politico EU. Available at:

[3] Ferreira as rapporteur:

[4] Ferreira as rapporteur:

[5] Ferreira as co-rapporteur:

[6] Ferreira as rapporteur:

[7] CV Lenarčič: