Is circular economy advocate Janez Potočnik set to return to European Commission?


Former European Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik could be set to serve a fourth term in the European Commission if MEPs reject the new candidate Violeta Bulc.

The Slovenian could become the new nominee of his Government after Alenka Bratušek was rejected by MEPs by a vote of 113 to 12 and then subsequently resigned as Vice-President designate of the next European Commission. However, this would be dependant on the current Slovenia nominee also being rejected. 


Following a poor performance in front of MEPs, and lacking definitive support from the current Slovenian Government, the former Prime Minister took the decision to resign late last week.

While entrepreneur Violeta Bulc has now been nominated by Slovenia, her lack of political experience and her membership of the centrist ALDE group in the European Parliament rather than the dominating centre right EPP or centre left S&D could count against her in hearings. Reports in Slovenia’s press suggested that Janez Potočnik was among the frontrunners being considered by Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar for the role and if Violeta Bulc’s nomination is also rejected, then he could return to the Commission. 

If Janez Potočnik were to get the nomination, it is possible that he would be a direct replacement for Alenka Bratušek as Vice President Designate for Energy Union.

The advantage of putting him into this role would include his experience as a Commissioner, while he also would have some understanding of the energy portfolio from his time as Environment Commissioner.

A key benefit would also be that it would assuage fears that the European President Jean-Claude Juncker is hostile to the resource efficiency and circular economy agenda proposed by the previous European Commission.

While another advantage would be that European Environment and Maritime Affairs Commissioner would work on projects for the new Vice President of Energy Union and also the Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness which is expected to be Jyrki Katainen.

Factors that may work against another Janez Potočnik nomination includes the fact that replacing the female Alenka Bratušek with the male Janez Potočnik would mean a target of having nine female commissioners out of the 28 would be missed – something that the nomination of Violeta Bulc addresses. 

However, it is also possible that Jean-Claude Juncker may decide on a reshuffle of his team in order to accommodate the new Slovenian nomination of Violeta Bulc. But that would also delay the implementation of the new Commission as further hearings might need to take place to reflect the new roles that would be held by candidates as a result of the reshuffle. 

In a statement, the European Commission President said: “I have a lot of respect for Alenka Bratušek’s decision to resign as Vice-President designate of the next European Commission, communicated to me just now.

“Her decision reflects her commitment to the European Union, to Slovenia and to the democratic process.

“With her decision, she is helping me to finalise the composition of the European Commission, together with the European Parliament and the Council.

“I am in close contact with the Prime Minister of Slovenia, Miro Cerar, and the leadership of the European Parliament on this matter.”