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19th Jan 2020

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EP must be tougher on nominees, MEP says

  • 'I am French and I am very much surprised how it works here,' MEP Manon Aubry (c) said (Photo: European Parliament)

European commissioners ought to be forced to sell shares in firms that they will one day regulate, a French MEP on the coalface of an EU vetting process has said.

Cracking down on conflicts of interest might also mend trust with ordinary people, she added.

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"It's a big issue. I don't see how they [EU commissioners] can do their job independently, because if the companies do well they will earn more, and it's not as if we're talking about €500 worth of shares here - it's much more," French left-wing MEP Manon Aubry told EUobserver on Monday (23 September).

Aubry is one of the 25 MEPs on the European Parliament's (EP) legal affairs committee, a body tasked with checking the financial declarations of would-be commissioners.

She spoke after the committee, last week, raised concern on nine nominees' files.

It also discussed forcing sell-offs in portfolio clashes "as a rule", she said.

"I checked and we have the right to ask the commissioner to get rid of those shares on pain of not getting the green light, which is what we should do," she said.

The committee can issue "recommendations" that may include "renouncing the financial interests in question or changes to the portfolio of the commissioner-designate," the EP rulebook says.

As a "last resort", the parliamentary committee can even "conclude that the commissioner-designate is unable to exercise his or her functions", causing an imbroglio.

The parliament gave its legal affairs committee more robust powers last year.

But for Aubry, who used to be a spokeswoman for Oxfam, the international charity, in France, the EU vetting process still did not inspire confidence when seen close up.

The fact MEPs were allowed to play political games behind closed doors was not normal, the 29-year old politician said after coming to Brussels for the first time.

"You have to defend your [political family's] candidate ... or it puts you in a tricky position in your group," she said.

"This is one reason why the [EU] process is quite crude," she added.

"I am French and I am very much surprised how it works here compared to France. In France, we have to give much more detail [on financial interests], it's public scrutiny, and it's done by an independent body," she noted.

Initial enthusiasm for the forced sell-offs rule also tailed off when MEPs began to defend individual nominees from their political tribes, Aubry said.

And some of those who do not deserve the green light will probably get it anyway, she predicted.

The committee has until just Friday to make up its mind one way or the other, with nominees' public hearings set to start next week.

But EU commissioners ought to undergo stricter scrutiny because they wielded more power "than most ordinary Europeans realise," the MEP, who is with the far-left GUE/NGL group, noted.

Many people no longer trusted public officials and "one way to rebuild trust is to ensure that they [EU commissioners] are seen as whiter than white, that there's no reason to doubt their sincerity," Aubry said.

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