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25th Jul 2021

Analysis

How MEPs will quiz the next commissioners

  • In the past, the hearings have led to the withdrawal of a candidate or a change in their portfolios, mostly because of the nominee’s lack of knowledge (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU Parliament will organise public hearings from 30 September to 8 October to assess the future commissioners' suitability for their jobs and their knowledge of the portfolio they have been assigned - before the new EU commission takes office on 1 November.

These dates can still change, since the clarification of the financial declaration is a pre-condition for the hearings to take place at all.

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Nine of the commissioner-candidates of president-elect Ursula von der Leyen's team were asked to clarify their financial declarations because they were "incomplete, suspicious, or downright shocking", said French MEP Manon Aubry, who is a member of the legal affairs committee and who was privy to its internal deliberations.

These commissioners are Josep Borrell (Spanish candidate for the EU foreign affairs chief portfolio); Elisa Ferreira (Portuguese candidate for cohesion and reforms); Johannes Hahn (Austria's candidate for budget); Stellia Kyriakidu (Cyprus' candidate for health); Rovana Plumb (Romania's candidate for transport); Didier Reynders (Belgium's candidate for justice); Kadri Simson (Estonian candidate for energy); and Janusz Wojciechowski (Polish candidate for agriculture), according to the Polish media.

If these candidates do not clarify their declarations by Friday (27 September), the date of the hearings may be postponed.

Each candidate must attend a live-streamed three-hour-long hearing in front of the parliamentary committee or committees responsible for the portfolio they have been assigned. However, only the 'lead' committee is responsible for recommendations for the committee chairs.

If there is a negative evaluation of the leading committees, they may ask the commissioner to have another 90-minute hearing between 8 to 17 October.

The "committee of chairs" includes the chairs of all standing and special committees and is responsible for examining the evaluation letters for all hearings on 15 October.

Following the evaluation of the committee chairs, their assessments will be sent to the president of the EU parliament, David Sassoli, the chairmen of the EU political groups and a representative of the 'non-inscrits' - also known as the conference of presidents.

On 17 October, the conference of presidents will aim to declare the hearings closed.

Complex process

Parliament's committees involved in each of the hearings can submit a series of written questions in advance to the candidates, which must be responded to at least 48 hours before the start of the hearings. The number of questions of each committee depends on the number of committees participating in the hearing.

For instance, EU commission vice-president Frans Timmermans (and future commissioner for Green Deal) will face questions from a total of five different committees.

The environmental committee will lead the hearing, with industry, research and energy, and transport and tourism as associated committees and economy, agriculture and regional development as invited committees.

Margrethe Vestager, who will lead the next five years of EU competition enforcement, will be the only commissioner with three lead committees.

In the past, some hearings have led to the withdrawal of a candidate or a change in their portfolios, mostly because of the nominee's lack of knowledge of their portfolio.

For instance, in 2014 Alenka Bratušek was rejected by the committees on the environment, public health, and food safety, and industry, research, and energy as the vice-president for energy union due to "her poor knowledge of the portfolio and ethical concerns linked to her appointment," the EU parliament said at the time.

Additionally, Hungarian nominee Tibor Navracsics was approved as commissioner-designate, but not for the portfolio that outgoing EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker gave him.

After the hearings

Parliament is expected to vote on the new commission in plenary on 23 October. The green light to the commission is given by that vote in plenary, whereby the majority of the votes cast, by roll call, is necessary, according to the parliament.

Once parliament has given its consent, the European Council officially appoints the European Commission by a qualified majority - 72 percent of member states representing at least 65 percent of the EU population.

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Informal interviews with von der Leyen, hearings with parliamentary committees, and votes in the EU parliament and Council await the 26 candidates.

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