Wednesday

27th Oct 2021

MEPs ask wobbly commissioners near-impossible questions

  • Five of Juncker's 27 commissioners have had problems in the EP hearings so far

MEPs gave three commissioner nominees a Sunday-evening deadline to answer partly impossible questions.

"At their evaluation meetings, the committees competent for these hearings came to the conclusion that in these three cases they require further information in order to complete their evaluation," European Parliament chief Martin Schulz wrote on Thursday (2 October) in a letter to the new EU commission chief, Jean-Claude Juncker.

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The three commissioners are Vera Jourova (Czech Republic) in charge of "justice, consumers and gender equality", Britain's Jonathan Hill who would oversee financial services and "capital markets union" and Hungary's Tibor Navracsics, commissioner-designate for "education, culture, youth and citizenship."

The three have to reply to the written questions by Sunday 21.00 local time, before MEPs make up their mind if they are suited for the job.

One question is rather a topic comprising several questions.

Jourova gets almost a re-run of the 45 questions asked in her hearing on Wednesday.

She tops the list with 32 questions, including musings about her "complex portfolio" and demands to give concrete answers to plans ranging from maternity leave to freedom of movement and the European public prosecutor.

"On the matter of the implementation of EU law in the member states, what precise measures does the commissioner-designate envisage?", Jourova is asked.

The committee on internal market and consumer protection "considered that Ms Jourova displayed the aptitude and professional experience that are appropriate for a commissioner".

But they "felt that she was reluctant to make precise commitments," especially on "the underlying legal approach which will be followed for future consumer protection legislation".

The committee on women's rights and gender equality also wants to know how she plans to revive a binned directive on maternity leave and how she will monitor the implementation of an EU law against trafficking in human beings.

On gender equality, Jourova has to give more concrete answers as to what proposals and non-binding guidelines she intends to put forward: "What would be your timeline? Do you identify specific EU measures to reduce poverty among women and legally regulate these issues?"

Of bitcoins and UK ties

Britain's Lord Hill gets a shorter questionnaire than Jourova, of 23 question-topics, starting with a request to define his "vision of a well-regulated and integrated capital markets union" and what this capital markets union actually means.

He is also asked to give "recommendations with regards to digital currencies like bitcoin" and express his opinion on eurobonds - a controversial instrument to spread the debt burden across the eurozone.

Given his ties with the UK government, Hill is asked to describe his "strategy" in dealing with "potential conflicts between UK and EU objectives" when London will renegotiate its relationship with the EU.

He is also asked to outline what "contentious areas in the financial services portfolio" he might have, given that he was a senior member of the UK government.

"You agreed that the problem of 'too-big-to-fail' banks is important and persists. Can you outline how you intend to address it through legislation currently on the table and, potentially, new initiatives? Can you outline what a healthy European banking system looks like?," MEPs ask him.

As Hill in his hearing said that Europe "may have got it wrong" on financial regulation, MEPs want to know in what areas this might be the case and how he plans to fix it.

In addition to the written questions, Hill is also scheduled to appear again in an "exchange of views" - a second hearing with MEPs on Tuesday from 13.00 to 14.30.

Take distance from Orban

Hungary's Tibor Navracsics, a former justice minister and then foreign minister in the government of Viktor Orban is asked only six extra questions.

But he seems to have the hardest time from MEPs, who ask him to "take officially distance from the stances of your party FIDESZ, the Hungarian government and your Prime Minister Viktor Orban."

He is also asked to admit publicly that the media law he co-authored was not in line with the EU charter of fundamental rights.

MEPs also question his reassurances that the law was changed so that it fully complies with EU requirements.

"Could you please explain in detail how the Hungarian media law does not jeopardize fundamental rights and press freedom, but instead, does correspond completely to the European values by:

- requiring registration of all media, including online media such as forums and blogs,

- obliging all media to engage in balanced coverage of national and European events,

- making the Media Authority subject to political control through the appointment

process,

- introducing in July 2014 a new Tax Law that, according to the EU Commission,

directly affect one of the few media channels in Hungary considered neutral since it does not promote a pro-government line (RTL)?"

Moscovici and Canete

Two other commissioners may also face the axe but are not included in the letter - France's Pierre Moscovici, who will also have to reply to a written questionnaire that was being drafted on Friday, and Spain's Miguel Arias Canete, about whom MEPs are requesting a legal opinion first.

The European Parliament's legal affairs committee is to meet on Monday at 19.00 to give its verdict on Canete's declaration of financial interests, which he changed one day before the hearing, as he and his family had just completed the sale of shares in two oil companies.

MEPs in the environment and the energy committees will then hold a vote on his suitability as a commissioner for energy and climate, given that his brother-in-law is still on the board of those companies.

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