Interim commissioners pass EU parliament test
Former Finnish PM Jyrki Katainen and three other interim commissioners-to-be were grilled by MEPs on Monday (14 July) before taking up their posts for the next four months.
Katainen, who will replace economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn, is the only one of the four who is likely to stay on as commissioner once the new EU commission is voted in, in October.
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The 41-year old Finn, who acted as a hawkish finance minister and then prime minister during the euro crisis, demanding harsh austerity measures and special guarantees from bailed-out countries, faced the toughest grilling from Green, leftist and eurosceptic MEPs.
His focus was on "structural reforms" rather than more budget cuts and austerity measures.
"Budget cuts and tax increases don't create anything new, other than confidence. But structural reforms do create a more favourable environment for businesses, which can create more jobs", he said.
He also warned against coming up with more new rules in the eurozone, rather than implementing existing ones: "There are three challenges about the new rules of the eurozone: the first is implementation, the second is implementation, the third is implementation."
He said the anger of people in Greece or Portugal against the "troika" of EU inspectors who came in every three months to evaluate the reforms is misguided.
"The troika people are doing what the masters have decided, the lenders - the eurozone countries, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund", he noted.
As for "flexibility" in applying the deficit and debt rules, Katainen praised the "very wise" decision by EU leaders that there should be no change in the guidelines.
With the economics commissioner post eyed by the centre-left government in France and with the incoming head of the EU commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, more socially-oriented than Katainen, the Finn is unlikely to keep his current portfolio if he stays in Brussels.
Of the other three interim commissioners - who are replacing their national representatives after they took up their seats as MEPs earlier this month - the first one to be grilled was Martine Reicherts from Luxembourg, an EU official in charge of the bloc's publications and a yoga teacher.
Reicherts will replace Viviane Reding, the former justice and civil liberties commissioner until Juncker - also from Luxembourg - becomes head of the EU commission.
She gave balanced answers to questions ranging from data protection to Roma evictions in France, while defending freedom of movement and gay rights.
Italy's former EU ambassador, Nelli Feroci, who will replace industry commissioner Antonio Tajani, also fielded questions adroitly.
He suggested new ways of reducing bureaucracy. He defended the draft EU-US free trade agreement and he pledged to use his few months in office to help SMEs and to stimulate a new focus on growth.
"Because of the economic crisis, European citizens see the European Union as being distanced, not really acting on their cares ... I strongly believe a European agenda focused on the industrial economy and real competitiveness can and will contribute to growth and jobs", he said.
Feroci is unlikely to stay on in the new commission because Italian FM Federica Mogherini is tipped to become either the new EU foreign affairs chief or a vice-president of the EU commission in charge of humanitarian aid.
Meanwhile, Poland's Jacek Dominik, replacing budgets commissioner Janusz Lewandowski, said his main goal will be to get member states to cough up extra money for the EU to meet its outstanding bills for 2011, 2012, and 2013.
The former deputy finance minister, who impressed MEPs with his knowledge of the intricacies of EU financial instruments, said meeting the commitments is a test of "EU credibility".
He added that the EU budget needs "more flexibility" and more direct contributions in the form of "own resources" to meet future needs.
The candidates' four-month stint as a commissioner comes with a monthly salary of €20,000 and pension rights of some €200 a month once they retire.
The EU parliament is to vote on their eligibility on Wednesday (16 July) morning.