Thursday

26th May 2022

MEPs push for oversight on commissioners

  • Pascal Durand, the Green MEP that wants to control commissioners through better scrutiny of interest declarations (Photo: European Parliament)

One week after revelations that former EU commissioner Neelie Kroes had failed to declare her directorship of an offshore firm in 10 years in office, the European Parliament took a small step toward strengthening oversight.

One of parliament’s smallest groups, the Greens, has proposed that the assembly should, in future, have the right to block candidates from conflicted portfolios or, in extreme cases, if they failed to come clean on their financial interests, from assuming office.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Dariusz Rosati, the Polish EPP politician, says the next Kroes case is best avoided by cracking down on tax avoidance (Photo: European Parliament)

The EU parliament already holds hearings with commissioner-designates, and can blackball candidates if they do not know their portfolio or for political reasons.

But its power to vet candidates over conflicts of interest is symbolic.

On paper, commissioner-hopefuls have to submit declarations of interest for scrutiny by the parliament’s legal affairs committee (Juri).

But Juri MEPs “can only check whether declaration forms have been filled out, signed and dated in the proper format,” Pascal Durand, a French MEP in the Green group who drafted the new oversight proposals, told this website.

Referring to the hearings of commissioner-designates, he added: “We can ask questions to evaluate a candidate's political abilities, but it’s not a suitable method for probing vested interests”.

The debate on oversight comes after revelations, dubbed Bahamas leaks, last week, that Kroes failed to declare directorship of a Bahama-registered company with interests in the US energy sector.

Kroes admitted wrongdoing, but blamed a ”clerical” error.

The current climate change commissioner, Miguel Arias Canete, has also prompted oversight questions.

Shortly before the summer recess, Juri summoned Canete to ask why he had failed to declare his wife’s offshore firm, as revealed in the Panama Papers leaks.

Independent special body

He said the firm was “dormant”, but left-wing and green MEPs said he avoided hard questions.

The controversies risk further damaging EU institutions’ credibility, at a time of heightened scrutiny after Brexit.

Durand's report on EU parliament oversight was well received by other groups at a Juri hearing on Monday (26 September).

He told EUobserver the European Commission was wrong to rely on commissioner’s good faith on declarations of interest.

But he added that even if his proposals were adopted, they would not be enough to stop commissioners hiding assets.

”For that, we would need an independent special body with human and financial resources, which would have the right to investigate public officials and to pronounce sanctions," said the French MEP.

The centre-left S&D group, the second largest in the EU parliament, threw its weight behind Durand’s report on Monday.

Loopholes in tax laws

But the centre-right EPP, the largest bloc, said the problem didn't come from the EU institutions.

Tadeusz Zwiefka, a Polish centre-right MEP, said the responsibility lay with member states as they nominated the candidates in the first place.

"It's us who are taking the fire for Neelie Kroes," he said, "instead of the Dutch government that appointed her."

Dariusz Rosati, another Polish centre-right MEP, said loopholes in international tax law were to blame.

”Ms Kroes’ name is of course headline-grabbing but we should look to the cause of this mess, namely insufficient international cooperation on tax issues,” he told EUobserver.

Rosati is the EPP spokesman in the Pana committee, a new organ created to investigate the truth behind the Panama Papers and Bahamas leaks, which starts work on Tuesday.

New EU competition chief promises to be impartial

The incoming Dutch Commissioner has argued in a hearing with MEPs that her experience as a business women will be an advantage when she takes on the Competition portfolio later this year. But several MEPs have accused her of giving answers that were "vague and evasive".

Spain's Canete entangled in EP political battle

A stormy EP hearing with Spain’s Canete on Wednesday ended with the Socialists seeking a delay on his approval, as part of a bigger confrontation between political groups.

Opinion

Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy

Granting EU candidacy status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will firmly anchor their ties with Brussels — and enable the EU to secure its place in the Black Sea region, connecting Europe to China and energy-rich Central Asia, bypassing Russia.

Opinion

The EU Parliament Covid inquiry: the questions MEPs must ask

A basic lack of transparency around the EU's vaccines procurement negotiations has prevented effective public and parliamentary scrutiny. It has also made it impossible to answer some of the key questions we put forward here.

News in Brief

  1. Dutch journalists sue EU over banned Russia TV channels
  2. EU holding €23bn of Russian bank reserves
  3. Russia speeds up passport process in occupied Ukraine
  4. Palestinian civil society denounce Metsola's Israel visit
  5. Johnson refuses to resign after Downing Street parties report
  6. EU border police has over 2,000 agents deployed
  7. Dutch tax authorities to admit to institutional racism
  8. Rutte calls for EU pension and labour reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. EU summit will be 'unwavering' on arms for Ukraine
  2. Orbán's new state of emergency under fire
  3. EU parliament prevaricates on barring Russian lobbyists
  4. Ukraine lawyer enlists EU watchdog against Russian oil
  5. Right of Reply: Hungarian government
  6. When Reagan met Gorbachev — a history lesson for Putin
  7. Orbán oil veto to deface EU summit on Ukraine
  8. France aims for EU minimum-tax deal in June

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us