Thursday

23rd May 2019

New commissioners file written replies ahead of EU hearings

  • The Swedish, Croatian, Maltese and German commissioners all have hearings on Monday (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Ahead of parliamentary hearings due to kick off on Monday (29 September), the new commissioners-to-be have replied in writing to questions from MEPs.

The written answers, seen by EUobserver, give reassurances and seek to pre-empt criticism on potential conflict of interests and independence from national governments.

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Spain's Arias Canete, the next energy and climate commissioner, is expected to face a barrage of criticism in his hearing on Wednesday (1 October) about his and his family's business interests with oil companies after the Greens in the European Parliament wrote an open letter questioning his suitability for the job.

"I will never act on issues of my portfolio in which I could have personal, familial or financial interests that could compromise my independence. If I am faced with a situation of this nature I will proceed immediately to inform the president of the [European] Commission," Canete says in his written answers.

He adds that during his six years as a member of the Spanish government, "I never took decisions on issues where I could have directly or indirectly any interest, and when I estimated that my independence could be dubious I refrained from intervening in accordance with the relevant procedures of the Spanish legal system."

Like most other commissioner candidates, Canete emphasises his EU credentials: "For my entire political life I have been closely involved in the construction of the European Union. I was for 13 years a Member of the European Parliament in the committees of budgets, on agriculture and on fisheries, including having the honour of chairing the latter two."

He pledges to "work intensively" with his fellow commissioner on an agreement which would have all EU institutions subscribe to a mandatory lobby register. Currently, some lobby firms sign up to a voluntary register, which does not cover the European Council, representing national governments.

"All relevant contacts with stakeholders and lobbyists in the context of the legislative procedure having a connection to my activity as a commissioner for climate action and energy will be made public. The same will apply to my services," Canete writes.

Sweden's Cecilia Malmstrom, due to appear before MEPs on Monday, also defends her credentials as the bloc's next trade commissioner, in charge of negotiations with the US on a controversial free trade deal.

Malmstrom, an outgoing home affairs commissioner, in the written replies to MEPs says she "devoted the past 25 years of my life working on European affairs."

"I grew up in France and had the possibility as a child to make friends from all corners of Europe. I realised early on that many of my friends at school had a past different from my own, with their grandfathers and other family members buried beneath one of those white crosses in the graveyards I visited with my parents in Normandy or Alsace".

As for accusations that the EU-US trade deal is being sealed behind closed doors and under strong lobbying from US firms, Malmstrom writes: "In all my political life – as an MEP, minister and commissioner, I have always been a strong believer in the importance of transparency. I also firmly believe in the need for democratic scrutiny of trade policy."

She promises to keep MEPs "informed" and come to the trade committee "on a regular basis", as well as to expand a so-called monitoring group for the EU-US negotiations to other trade negotiations.

According to an EU official, MEPs on the monitoring group can access secret documents in a room where they are not allowed to take phones or make any copies.

"A novelty is now that they can use pen and paper to make notes, but it's still very unclear how MEPs can use their scrutiny powers if they're supposed to keep everything secret," the source added.

Katainen the 'bridge-builder'

Finland's former prime minister Jyrki Katainen seeks to explain his new role as super-commissioner overseeing several economic portfolios.

He uses the term "bridge-builder" several times: "In the new commission, my role would be as a team leader, co-ordinator and bridge-builder who works constructively and fairly with other members of the team in a spirit of collegiality and mutual dependence."

"I see my role as a team leader, coordinator, and bridge-builder in this process," he writes further.

"If confirmed as vice president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness, I would focus on coherence, effectiveness and act as a bridge-builder."

"My ambition has been, and will continue to be, to act as a bridge-builder."

Meanwhile, France's Pierre Moscovici, who will oversee member states - including his home country - when applying EU deficit and debt rules, promises to apply the same treatment to all governments.

But with some caveats.

"I will not shy away from activating the Economic Imbalances Procedure, should we find that a member state in excessive imbalances has not taken action to implement the recommendations collectively adopted by the Council", he writes.

"Of course, as many have said before me, the 'Pact is not stupid" and one would need to look at each specific situation, and each country should be judged on its own merit, as the nature, magnitude and root causes of the economic, financial and social challenges vary widely across member states".

With taxation now under his remit, Moscovici says he would favour more tax harmonisation across the bloc, including for corporations, a stance likely to irk several member states where low taxation has brought in foreign companies.

Meanwhile, the UK's Lord Hill, the new financial services commissioner, attempts to preempt criticism about his loyalty to the British government.

"I have a wide range of both legislative and executive experience that I will take advantage of while carrying out my role as Commissioner, acting objectively and impartially in the common European interest", he writes.

Hungary's Tibor Navracsics, due to be in charge of culture, education and citizenship at a time when his government in Budapest is cracking down on NGOs, distances himself from what is going on in Budapest.

"I have resigned from my post of minister in order to concentrate fully and wholeheartedly on my preparations for the job of European Commissioner. If confirmed, I will commit as commissioner to my role of ensuring that member states fully respect the values of the EU", he says.

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