Wednesday

21st Oct 2020

Poland's 'vague' nominee flops in EU hearing

  • Janusz Wojciechowski failed to get the two-thirds majority of MEPs he needed to get through, Polish news agency PAP reported, citing European Parliament sources (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Poland's nominee for agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, is set to face a second hearing after MEPs from the European Parliament's (EP) top political groups blasted his "vague" performance on Tuesday (1 October).

Wojciechowski's answers "unfortunately lacked clarity," Norbert Lins, a German MEP from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) group, who chairs the parliament's agriculture committee, said following the Pole's two-and-a-half-hour cross-examination in Brussels.

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"We expected much more detailed and ambitious answers," Paolo de Castro, a senior Italian MEP from the centre-left Socialist & Democrats group, noted.

Poland's man "was too vague and evasive," Ulrike Mueller, an Austrian MEP from the liberal Renew Europe group, also said.

"My prediction is that he [Wojciechowski] has to come back for another appearance," Petri Sarvamaa, a Finnish centre-right MEP, added.

MEPs from the opposition PSL and Spring parties in Poland said they had hoped he would go through despite his affiliation with the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

"I had wanted it to go better," PSL's Janusz Kalinowski told Polish media.

"It was a lost opportunity," Robert Biedron from Spring said.

The 64-year old Polish candidate might have expected hard questions on PiS' abuse of rule of law at home and the EU anti-fraud office, Olaf's, investigation into his misuse of EP expenses in his time as an MEP.

In the end, the only question on rule of law came from a Polish opposition MEP, Jaroslaw Kalinowski, who asked how Wojciechowski would protect Poland from facing EU budget penalties over the abuse.

The only question on Olaf came from Christophe Hansen, a centre-right MEP from Luxembourg.

Wojciechowski said the European Court of Auditors had criticised the idea of budget penalties for rogue states.

Olaf had recently closed its investigation, he noted, and he had voluntarily repaid the €11,243 in question, he said, but Hansen countered that the EP had in fact forced him to repay €3,981 of it back in 2016.

The bulk of the 25 formal questions, on the future of EU agriculture policy, ought to have been easier to handle, given that Wojciechowski had spent 12 years as an MEP on the agriculture committee.

He tried to make the right noises despite the PiS party's right-wing views on industry and the environment.

He would support "ecological farming" and "biodiversity", he said.

He would counter over-use of antibiotics in animal farming and defend animal rights, he added. He would also protect small farmers against international trade deals with the US or South America, he also said.

"Intensive farming is not a good solution for the environment or for climate," Wojciechowski said.

But his answers on policy detail, time and again, amounted to slogans on EP cooperation and dialogue.

He also spoke in shaky English despite having had the option to speak in his native language.

"I can't be more precise at this point," he said, several times.

"I can't answer that right now, but we should discuss it further," he said on more than one occasion.

"I don't know this problem in detail, but we must find a solution," he also said.

"I don't know what that was, but it definitely wasn't an answer to my question," Irish left-wing MEP Matt Carthy noted, voicing irritation.

When Wojciechowski fielded yet another question by saying "I'm open to discussion on this," the MEPs erupted in laughter.

Silence

And when Lins, the committee chair, proposed a round of applause after the hearing, the chamber stayed silent.

The committee is expected to confirm on Wednesday that he failed to get the two-thirds majority he needed to get through and his second hearing is set to take place on 14 or 15 October.

Wojciechowski is the only commissioner candidate from the anti-federalist European Conservatives and Reformists Group.

His mini-debacle comes after the EP rejected two European Commission candidates - from Hungary and Romania - on Monday on grounds of financial conflicts of interest.

And two other nominees, who stand accused of corruption (Belgium's Didier Reynders) and misuse of EU funds (France's Sylvie Goulard), could also have a hard time in their hearings on Wednesday.

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