Tuesday

22nd Oct 2019

Agenda

Commissioner hearings start This WEEK

  • The last hearing of a commissioner-designate took place in 2017 with Bulgaria's Mariya Gabriel. She will face MEPs again, along with all the other would-be commissioners (Photo: European Parliament)

The long-awaited hearings of would-be commissioners will kick off on Monday (30 September) in the European Parliament.

First up, Slovakia's Maros Sefcovic will be on the spot on Monday afternoon, who will be responsible for the new commission's dealings with the parliament.

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For the following two weeks, commissioner-designates will be grilled by committees in their respective policy area.

However, the hearings for Hungary's Laszlo Trocsanyi and Romania's Rovana Plumb will not take place as scheduled after the legal affairs committee on Thursday (26 September) blocked their confirmation due to conflict of interests.

The committee chair sent a letter to parliament president David Sassoli, who passed back the ball saying he needs a clearer recommendation from the committee on what to tell commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen on how to proceed.

Under the parliament's rules the legal affairs committee can suggest "renouncing the financial interests in question", or ask changes to the designated portfolio or "as a last resort", may conclude that the nominee "is unable to exercise his or her functions".

The legal affairs committee will meet on Monday (30 September) to clarify the recommendations.

As part of the hearings process, all commissioner-designates have been sent questions before their appearance at the committees, and their answers can be found here.

All hearings will last three hours, starting with a 15-minute introductory statement, and 25 one-minute questions, to each of which the commissioner-designates will have three minutes to answer. There will be an opportunity for follow-up questions.

After the hearings, the committee's coordinators - the political groups' lead MEPs in the panel - will meet behind closed doors to vote on the candidates. A two-thirds majority is required for approval.

In there is no majority, there is a possibility for written questions, a new hearing, and if coordinators are still divided, the full committee votes, with a simple majority needed.

The committees' approvals will make its way the parliament leadership, which could pronounce the hearings closed, as originally expected, on 17 October.

While hearings will the main focus in parliament this week, on Monday political groups will present their candidates for the Sakharov prize to honour individuals who are defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Austria votes

On Sunday (29 September), Austrian voters go to the ballot after the previous government coalition between the centre-right People's Party (OVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) fell four months ago.

The 33-year-old OVP leader Sebastian Kurz is likely to return to the chancellery.

He was ousted by a no-confidence vote in the wake of the release of a covertly filmed video in which the then deputy chancellor and FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache appeared to offer public contracts to a purported Russian investor.

The question for Kurz is whether to re-enter the alliance with the bruised Freedom Party, seek a grand coalition with the Social Democrats, who are expected to come in second in the election or pursue the support of the Greens and a smaller liberal outfit.

Kurt's earlier choice to team up with the far-right was seen as an attempt to try to moderate the FPO and for Kurz's centre-right party to keep voters on the right, but after the video scandal that undertaking seemed to have failed.

Nevertheless, it appears that Kurz's preferred choice would still be FPO, as the party could be more dangerous to him politically in opposition.

Brexit continues

Expect more blistering rhetoric from British prime minister Boris Johnson and his fellow Brexiteer Conservatives as the Tory party heads into its annual three-day conference on Sunday in Manchester.

MPs in the House of Commons have voted down a proposal by Johnson's government to take a traditional break for the time of the conference.

MPs only returned to work a few days ago after a Supreme Court decision overturned Johnson's earlier move to suspend parliament until mid-October.

While Johnson claims his government is negotiating hard in Brussels, EU officials don't expect any, concrete, new proposal from London on the Irish border conundrum before the end of the party conference.

With EU leaders gathering for a crucial summit on 17-18 October, it leaves very little time to reach a divorce deal before the UK leaves the EU on 31 October.

Juncker: No-deal Brexit 'palpable'

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said he is not emotionally attached to the Irish backstop, but workable solutions are required to keep the peace on the island.

Analysis

How MEPs will quiz the next commissioners

The EU parliament will organise public hearings to assess the future commissioners' suitability for their job and their knowledge about the portfolio they had assigned, before the new EU commission takes office on 1 November.

MEPs block Romanian and Hungarian 'commissioners'

In an unprecedented move, MEPs in the legal affairs committee said there were conflicts of interests for two commissioner-designates. Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen will now have to decide what to do with them.

Kurz wins in Austria with best result since 2002

Leader of the conservative People's Party (ÖVP) Sebastian Kurz won Sunday's snap parliamentary election in Austria with 38.4 percent of the vote, after he lost a confidence vote in May due to the 'Ibiza scandal'.

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