Wednesday

20th Nov 2019

MEPs prepare 'lively' hearings for new commissioners

  • Each commissioner will be grilled for three hours, responding to 45 questions (Photo: European Parliament)

When the 27 new commissioners-to-be start their hearings in the European Parliament next week, the question is not if MEPs will reject one of them, but who it will be.

"It would be for the first time in the history of hearings if all candidates are accepted," notes one EU source.

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Four years ago, it was the Bulgarian candidate, Rumiana Jeleva, who had to be replaced after she failed to counter accusations of conflicts of interest. In 2004, it was Italy's Rocco Buttiglione who was vetoed by MEPs after he defended his "traditionalist" stance on gays and the role of women in society.

Depending on which EU official you ask, there are different views on who is the most vulnerable this time around.

Economics MEPs point to Jonathan Hill, the British candidate, who is bidding for financial services.

"I expect all hearings to be tough, but probably the Hill hearing will be one of the livelier ones," says Italian MEP Roberto Gualtieri, chairman of the economic affairs committee.

His German colleague from the Greens, Sven Giegold, told this website that Hill does not have the backing of any of the two big parties - the centre-right European People's Party or the Socialist Party.

"To me, Hill is a candidate in breach of the EU treaty, which says that they should prove competence, European engagement and independence," Giegold said.

However, if the two largest groups make a deal to accept Hill in order not to upset or isolate the UK, Hill is likely to pass, Giegold said.

MEPs have sent written questions to all candidates which will have to be answered by Thursday (25 September).

EUobserver has seen the questionnaires, which include some generic questions, such as: what qualifies them for the job; what motivates them; what guarantees of independence can they give to the European Parliament; and how do they plan to be accountable for their actions.

The specific questions for Hill include his "main political objectives for future regulation of the financial sector" and plans to complete the so-called banking union, given that the UK is not part of this banking union which targets large banks in the eurozone.

MEPs will also ask him how he intends to "guarantee the respect of the community method" - code for legislation being approved through the EU institutions rather than inter-governmental arrangements.

They also want the European parliament to have a say and scrutiny powers over financial legislation and ask him how he will guarantee this, "bearing in mind that your home member state is advocating against existing European Union legislation, in particular with regard to the [banker] bonuses issue."

Skeletons in the closet

Another candidate likely to have a bumpy ride is the Spanish appointee, Aris Canete. The Greens on Wednesday sent an open letter against him because of potential conflicts of interest regarding oil companies he had held shares in until recently.

"His wife, son and brother in law all remain as either shareholders or board members of these companies," the Greens wrote.

In the written questionnaire for Canete, MEPs allude to his potential conflicts of interest: "How will you personally ensure the good quality of legislative proposals, full transparency of lobbying activities (directed at you and your services), and consistent and balanced consultation of all stakeholders taking also into account the need to carry out thorough impact assessments?"

Hungary's ex-foreign minister, Tibor Navracsics, may also face tough questions as he will be responsible for "Europe for citizens", at a time when the government in Budapest is cracking down on NGOs.

MEP's ask him in the written questions how he will "contribute to the development of European Citizenship, taking fully into account the Charter on Fundamental Rights?"

"What concrete measures would you take in order to promote democratic involvement and civic participation, as well as a better communication with citizens?," the questionnaire reads.

The Slovenian candidate, Alenka Bratusek, is under fire back home for having nominated herself at a time when she was an interim prime minister. Given that she is from a small political family - the Liberals, fourth-largest in the EP - and that the new government back home is not backing her, she may fall if all others pass.

Hawks and doves

France's Pierre Moscovici, a doveish ex-finance minister unpopular among fiscal hawks, will be grilled about his commitment to the deficit and debt rules when he takes up the economics portfolio.

In the written questions, Moscovici has to answer how he will implement the EU's strengthened rules on deficit, debt and macreconomic imbalances.

Alluding to France, which has failed to meet the deadlines for these rules, MEPs ask: "How will the commission implement these existing rules to deal with countries with excessive deficits and debt and macro-economic imbalances who fail to meet their annual targets? Do you confirm that you will make no difference between member states?"

Fiscal hawk Jyrki Katainen, a former Finnish prime minister, will also have to do better than at a hearing in June, when he replaced outgoing economics commissioner Olli Rehn, who took up his MEP seat. Back then, the Greens requested a vote - which he passed - after he gave unimpressive answers.

The questionnaire for Katainen asks details on how he plans to deliver on a three-month deadline for finding €300 billion in new investments, as announced in Juncker's political program.

MEPs also want to know how Katainen, as vice-president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, will divide work with the commissioners for economics (Moscovici) and for employment (Marianne Thyssen).

His hawkish record - already an issue with the Green and leftist groups - is to be questioned further: "What are the main priorities you intend to pursue as part of your responsibilities in view of the social and employment crisis, in particular youth unemployment, which affects several member states?"

This week’s written questions aside, MEPs will also be able to put 45 oral questions during each three-hour grilling, before each commissioner candidate gets a positive recommendation.

If the opinion is negative, EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker will be under pressure to ask the respective government to replace the candidate, otherwise the entire commission could be vetoed in October.

EP gears itself up for hearings of new commissioners

The European Parliament is preparing a set of "obstacle course" hearings for incoming EU commissioners with recent past form showing that at least one of the designates will fall by the wayside.

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