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22nd Feb 2020

MEPs to call six ambassadors for hearings

  • The public interviews will test nominees on their knowledge of new dossiers (Photo: EUobserver)

MEPs in the foreign affairs committee are to ask the EU's new ambassadors to China, Georgia, Japan, Lebanon and Pakistan and the EU Special Representative (EUSR) to Sudan to come in for hearings to check if they are up to scratch.

The committee drew up the list at a meeting in Strasbourg on Monday (20 September) and aims to carry out the interviews in public sessions next month. More names can be added, especially if information comes to light casting doubt on the eligibility of other nominees.

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German centre-right deputy Elmar Brok said the group of six was chosen due to the importance of the countries rather than any worries about individual candidates.

"We will check for knowledge of the dossier. A civil servant does not need to have a political vision," he told EUobserver.

MEPs do not have the legal power to block nominations. But if one of the interviewees performs badly it will create pressure for EU foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton to reconsider the posting.

"We did not want to have a system like in the United States, where Congress can block appointments and it takes a year and a half to get anything done," Mr Brok said.

Ms Ashton on 15 September published a list of 29 nominees for heads of delegation and deputy heads of delegation in the European External Action Service (EEAS). She appointed the new EUSR to Sudan on 11 August.

The new ambassador to China, German diplomat Markus Ederer, who is currently the head of policy planning in the German foreign ministry, is seen as a very strong choice. The new envoy to Georgia, former Bulgarian prime minister Philip Dimitrov, is also seen as a heavy-hitter because of his previous high office.

The envoy to Japan, Austrian diplomat Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, should have a good grasp of EU policy as he is currently Austria's ambassador to the EU.

The other three people to face the MEPs' grilling will be: Dutch EU official Angelina Eichhorst (the new ambassador to Lebanon), who is today the head of the Political, Economic and Trade section in the European Commission delegation to Syria; Swedish EU official Lars-Gunnar Wigemark (Pakistan), the current head of the commission's Security Policy unit; and British diplomat Rosalind Marsden (Sudan EUSR), the previous UK ambassador to Sudan.

Ms Ashton will in the coming weeks also name new people to head her missions to Belarus, Brazil and Iraq.

MEPs won the right to cross-examine her nominees in return for giving the green light to the EEAS' new budget and staff regulations in a political deal in July.

The deal does not cover her choices for top EEAS administrative jobs, such as secretary general and two deputy secretary generals. But Mr Brok said parliament might call in the new top bureaucrats as well.

"It's not in the agreement. But we will try to see if we can make some of them come in," he said.

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