19th Jan 2020

Kroes' future hangs in the balance

The European commissioner-designate for the digital agenda dossier, Neelie Kroes, looks set to be called back by MEPs for further questioning after her performance on Thursday (14 January) in front of parliament's industry and culture committees left euro-deputies dissatisfied.

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum said they were disappointed by the Liberal Dutch politician's vague answers, apparent unwillingness to back pro-consumer lines on a number of issues and considerable knowledge gaps in key areas of the policy.

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  • Ms Kroes looked tired during her hearing (Photo: European Parliament)

UK Conservative MEP Malcolm Harbour criticised Ms Kroes for not showing enough ambition to tackle abuses in the telecoms market. "I thought you would be more challenging, given your reputation," he said, with others citing wishy-washy responses to questions on digital copyright law.

Liberal MEP Andrew Duff told EUobserver he thought Ms Kroes "would be excellent in the job," but conceded her hearing performance could have been better.

The industry committee's political co-ordinators met after the three-hour grilling, with Austrian centre-right MEP Paul Rübig subsequently saying the panel had agreed to a second, closed-door meeting in Strasbourg next week to clarify her position on the key issues.

Other sources within the centre-right European Peoples Party (EPP) confirmed the meeting is set to go ahead, saying "we are trying to find a way out of this awkward situation." However, the exact procedure is unclear, with one parliament official saying the call-back decision would need to be taken by political party heads, scheduled to meet next Thursday.

Political stitch-up

Commission officials close to Ms Kroes said she had been taken as a political hostage however, with members from the EPP under strict orders not to sanction the 68-year old swiftly until they secure a steady passage for their own commissioner nominees.

"It would be ridiculous not to approve her given her track record," said one official who wished to remain anonymous, adding that Ms Kroes had received no formal notification for more questioning as of Friday evening.

"The parliament seems to be making it up as they go along," said the official of the hearings procedure, adding that the political jostling to push candidates through "does not show the parliament up in its best light."

Ms Kroes, who faced a tough hearing five years ago over her close contacts to big business, has subsequently earned a reputation as a tough defender of EU competition policy, extracting massive fines from behemoths such a Microsoft and Intel.

While several other current commissioners seeking reappointment have been quiet in recent weeks as they read up on their new portfolios, Ms Kroes has been working up to last minute, recently securing a break-through deal with Microsoft over internet browsers.

As well as the heavy work load, Brussels observers also suggest her current role as a tough enforcer of existing EU law has not prepared her for the digital agenda job where many of the rules have yet to be written.

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