What do you buy for the commissioner who has everything this Christmas?
Officials and businesspeople from across the globe have come up with some creative ideas for gifts for the EU’s executive elite, from a decorative sailing vessel and statue of Mohandas Gandhi to Ray-Ban sunglasses and cufflinks.
But commissioners are not allowed to keep valuable gifts, and expensive presents end up stored deep inside the Berlaymont or, in many cases, donated to charity. They are also added to a little-known registry, as part of the Commission’s transparency rules.
These records show that it is the trade brief that wins you most friends: After former President Jean-Claude Juncker, it was Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström who received the most gifts — 17 — during the previous Commission’s term. She was followed closely by Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc, who got 15 presents.
The records also demonstrate that gift-givers are more enthusiastic when officials are fresh in their mandates. In 2015, members of the Commission were given a total of 24 presents. In 2019, the number of gifts dropped to just four: two for Juncker and two for Malmström.
New Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has already gotten a present from Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in the first days of her mandate: a “colorful scarf with African designs,” according to her communication adviser Jens Flosdorff.
Brussels has a long tradition of gifts: Rotating presidencies of the Council of the EU often hand out ties and scarves, as well as books and even vinyl singles and jam, to diplomats and journalists. But the Finnish presidency, which served from July until December, broke with this tradition, not providing any presents — though it did arrange for Santa Claus to get accreditation to the last European Council summit.
If you’re still struggling for present ideas, here’s some inspiration from the best gifts received by the last European Commission:
For imperial dreamers: Russian President Vladimir Putin gave then-Commission President Juncker an illustration of world empires after the fall of the Roman empire, according to Commission records, along with a “copy of an orange coloured Fabergé egg (28 cm height).”
For tech geeks: Frank Brenner, the head of Eurocontrol, an air navigation organization, gave Bulc an Apple iPad Pro 128 GB in 2016.
For frugal gift-givers: The European Court of Auditors gave Juncker a “silver frame with 10 Luxembourg stamps of €0,70 cents.”
For animal lovers: The president of Mongolia, Battulga Khaltmaa, gave Juncker a “traditional Mongolian portrait of two horse riders” early this year.
For warmth lovers: Former French Minister for Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius gave then-High Representative Federica Mogherini a “navy woollen cardigan by Saint James l’Atelier” in 2015.
For opera lovers: Giuseppe Sala, the mayor of Milan, gave a “small watercolor painting of the Scala di Milano” to Bulc in late 2018.
For timely transport geeks: Jassim Bin Saif Al Sulaiti, Qatar’s minister of transport and communications, gave a Bulgari ladies watch (Serpenti Tubogas Silver Opaline Dial) to Bulc in 2016 — price €6,900.
For wine lovers: Former Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete got a bottle of “Dragos Voievod 40 ani” (price €294) from a Moldovan deputy prime minister.
For music lovers: At a Wired live event, Margrethe Vestager was given Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay H9 Over Ear Headphones.
The full Commission gift registry.