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26th Jan 2020

Polish EU nominee gets through at second attempt

  • The 64-year old Pole was formerly a judge during the country's communist era (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Poland's pick for EU agriculture commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, won MEPs' approval after a second mini-hearing in Brussels on Tuesday (8 October).

He got through "unanimously", Ryszard Czarnecki, a fellow Polish MEP from Wojciechowski's PiS party, said.

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"And doomsayers from the opposition [in Poland] had said we ought to look for another candidate!", Czarnecki also said on Twitter.

MEPs had called back the Polish nominee after complaining that his answers had been too "vague" in his initial hearing last week.

He had repeatedly ducked questions by saying he was "open to discussion" on this or that issue and he spoke in halting English.

But he gave a more self-assured performance on Tuesday, speaking in his native language, and taking clear positions on issues such as the US trade war and EU cohesion.

"Of course, I understand the situation - it's dramatic," he said on the threat of US tariffs on European foods.

"It's not the first time farmers are being hammered by conflicts between governments or big businesses. I'm hoping for a political solution, but if there isn't one, we immediately have to mobilise all the resources in the [EU] aid system," he added.

Inequalities in access to EU farm subsidies between countries who joined before 2004 and those who joined after must end, Wojciechowski said.

"Enlargement was 15 years ago - we can no longer divide Europe into 'old' and 'new'," he said.

He promised to "fight" even his fellow commissioners if need be to make sure the EU did not cut back its agriculture budget.

"We're losing thousands of farm businesses a day - that's the rate of disappearances," he said.

He promised to help young farmers to stay in the sector and to protect EU food standards from imports.

He also softened his previous lines on championing small farmers and on animal welfare to please the centre-right European People's Party bloc, which tends to protect big agricultural firms.

"There's a place for all kinds of enterprises in European agriculture," Wojciechowski said.

"Animal welfare is close to my heart, but I don't foresee any new [legislative] initiatives ... the EU has enough laws in this area," he added.

MEPs had declined to applaud Wojciechowski after his first hearing.

But they did so on Tuesday. Several of them also thanked him for his "concrete" answers.

And nobody tried to needle him about his political party's shoddy record on rule of law and the environment back in Poland.

The 64-year old is a former MEP who was also a judge during Poland's communist regime.

His recall for a second hearing prompted jitters that the confirmation of the new European Commission might have to be delayed until after 1 November.

It came after MEPs rejected two other nominees - from Hungary and Romania - on financial conflicts of interest.

They also called back the French nominee for a second hearing earlier this week.

Budapest and Bucharest have now put forward two new candidates - a diplomat and an MEP.

And the three final hearings are due to take part before 15 October, when the European Parliament wraps up its recommendations, ahead of a plenary vote on the new commission on 23 October.

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