Thursday

17th Jan 2019

MEPs explore new ways to monitor EU commissioners

  • Canete also in spotlight over Panama Papers reevlations (Photo: Valentina Pop)

The European Parliament likes to give a hard time to commissioner candidates.

It makes them pass a three-hour grilling that examines their political views, skills and financial interests before they can take up their seat at the Berlaymont, the European Commission headquarters.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

  • The climate commissioner has failed to silence criticism over his financial interests (Photo: European Commission)

But MEPs lack any similar process to make sure that commissioners stick to their duties, as set out in the commission’s code of conduct, after they start work.

The parliament’s largest group, the centre-right EPP, also is not keen too create a new procedure that would change the situation in a case linked to one of its own.

EU climate change boss Miguel Arias Canete - a member of the EPP political family - stirred debate when he was first nominated for the job in 2014 because he owned shares in two oil companies that he sold to his brother-in-law a few days before his parliament hearing.

The criticism on conflict of interest has continued to dog his work.

More recently, he was put in the spotlight as the Panama Papers leak on tax dodging named his wife Micaela Domecq Solis-Beaumont as the owner of an offshore firm that Canete never mentioned in his EU financial declaration. Commissioners and candidates are due to declare their own riches and those of their spouses.

The far-left GUE/NGL group, at the request of Spanish members from the Podemos party, has tried to summon Canete to the plenary to give explanations.

Closed meeting

But European Parliament (EP) group leaders and EP boss Martin Schulz have ruled out holding a public grilling. Instead, Schulz asked the legal affairs committee (Juri) to question Canete for one hour behind closed doors.

The meeting took place on 12 July and failed to satisfy Canete’s critics.

Canete reportedly sailed through the investigation, denying allegations against him and saying he had behaved in both a legal and moral way, according to EUobserver sources.

MEPs from different political groups who attended the meeting said they could neither confirm he had breached the code of conduct, nor clear his name, because they weren’t given the means to properly screen him.

The legal committee’s coordinators agreed that each group could file beforehand three written questions that Canete would answer orally.

Only selected MEPs from the legal committee were allowed to participate in the hearing. There was limited time for follow-up questions, and no record was take of the commissioner’s answers. Some questions were leaked to the media already before the hearing.

Socialist MEP Evelyn Regner told this website Canete had side-stepped her question on whether there were any investigations - either by national authorities or the European anti-fraud office, Olaf - going on against him.

Green MEP Heidi Hautala added that the hearing had allowed to confirm that Canete’s wife still owned the shell company, which still didn’t figure in the commissioner’s declaration - he claimed this isn’t necessary, as the company is dormant.

No official accusations

Tadeusz Zwiefka, who is the EPP coordinator in the committee, warned against making too much of the hearing, however.

”There are no official accusations against the commissioner. The fact that we held a hearing doesn’t mean there is anything to get excited about. The parliament invited Mr Canete to come over, so he did,” Zwiefka told EUobserver.

Christofer Fjellner, another EPP member, said green and left-wing politicians had made Canete into a symbol that was convenient for them to attack.

”I don’t think there is anything he can do to convince them,” he told this website.

The EPP does not want to put in place a framework that would allow to scrutinise commissioners in a more neutral way, either.

The group successfully stopped Juri coordinators from issuing a joint recommendation to the conference of presidents on how such a mechanism could look like.

Each political faction instead presented individual recommendations, which were seen by EUobserver.

Some groups - such as GUE/NGL and Greens - still want a plenary debate and resolution.

Socialists ruled out a plenary hearing, but would like to cooperate with Olaf on Canete’s case.

Panama option

Several groups also wanted him to be heard by the parliament’s investigative committee on money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion (Pana).

Most political factions recommended that some kind of mechanism is worked out and the code of conduct for commissioners is revised. But the EPP has recommended closing the file, and was supported by the conservative ECR.

Which of ideas will be implemented was left hanging in the air pending the parliament’s summer recess. Most MEPs left Brussels before the deadline for submitting recommendations, which expired last Friday (15 July).

Canete's office told EUobserver that it is not aware of any investigations against the commissioner and that his declaration is duly fulfilled.

"The conference of presidents [EP political chiefs] considered that since some allegations had been made on the national press, the parliament could invite the commissioner and hear him. The commissioner accepted the invitation as he always does with the parliament," a spokesperson said.

Panama Papers: EU's Canete implicated in leak

Financial dealings of EU climate commissioner Canete are revealed in leaked documents called the Panama Papers, which also shed light on finances of the leaders of Iceland, Russia and Ukraine.

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.

Ethics drive at EU parliament hits a wall

Plans to increase transparency at the European Parliament have been postponed, in a move likely to result in weaker proposals when it goes to a vote.

News in Brief

  1. Another referendum 'would take a year', Downing St says
  2. 82-year old Berlusconi to run in EU elections
  3. EU parliament votes to triple funds for democracy promotion
  4. EU parliament backs linking budget payments to rule of law
  5. Verhofstadt voted for Draghi amendment 'by mistake'
  6. 'Plan B' Brexit vote in UK parliament set for 29 January
  7. Verhofstadt wanted Draghi out of G30 group
  8. Putin heads to Serbia amid warnings against West

Opinion

Fiscal discipline rules in eurozone are devastating

New rules are needed that do not place the heaviest burdens on a few countries, but ensure that all countries benefit from the euro. Avoiding imbalances in trade between countries can do this.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General

Latest News

  1. Brexit delay 'reasonable', as May tries cross-party talks
  2. MEPs allow Draghi's membership of secretive bank group
  3. EU parliament backs Morocco deal despite row
  4. Barnier open to 'future relations' talks if UK red lines shift
  5. German spies to monitor far-right AfD party
  6. On Morocco, will the EU ignore its own court?
  7. UK parliament rejects May's Brexit deal in historic defeat
  8. EU suggests majority vote on digital tax by 2025

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  2. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  3. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  5. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  6. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  8. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow
  10. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us