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24th Jul 2021

Nine EU 'commissioners' asked to clarify declarations

Nine EU commissioner candidates have been taken to task for incomplete financial declarations by the European Parliament's (EP) legal affairs committee.

The revelation, made by French left-wing MEP Manon Aubry, on Twitter on Thursday (19 September) did not name names.

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  • European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen's candidates will face public hearings starting on 30 September (Photo: European Commission)

But eight of them were listed by Polish news website Onet.pl, citing an EP source.

Onet.pl's list included: Josep Borrell (Spanish candidate for EU the foreign affairs chief portfolio); Elisa Ferreira (Portuguese candidate for cohesion and reforms); Johannes Hahn (Austria's candidate for budget); Stellia Kyriakidu (Cyprus' candidate for health); Rovana Plumb (Romania's candidate for transport); Didier Reynders (Belgium's candidate for justice); Kadri Simson (Estonian candidate for energy); and Janusz Wojciechowski (Polish candidate for agriculture).

The candidates were asked to submit additional information on their declarations by 27 September, so that the legal affairs committee can give the green light for their public hearings by the parliament, starting 30 September.

If the supplementary details are deemed inadequate, the legal affairs committee can also call them in for a mini-hearing, which would take place behind closed doors, prior to their public examination.

Some of their initial filings were described as "incomplete, suspicious, or downright shocking", by Aubry, the French MEP, who is a member of the legal affairs committee and who was privy to its internal deliberations.

"Public information, unveiled by the press, or published by a public authority, contradicts the statements we have in front of us," she said.

Four of the declarations were "empty", four others said candidates had shares in firms which were registered as EU lobbyists, including German pharmaceutical giant Bayer and Italian energy champion ENI, and two were also "contradictory with past statements", Aubry said.

Oil and finance lobbies

"What is obvious, is that the future commission has financial links with oil and financial lobbies," she added.

Three of those named by Onet.pl have already attracted extra scrutiny by national or EU anti-fraud bodies.

Romania's anti-corruption authority asked the Romanian parliament for permission to look into Plumb's alleged links to the purchase of an island in the Danube river.

The Brussels prosecutor's office is investigating allegations, made by a former Belgian spy, that Reynders was guilty of taking "bribes" and of "money laundering".

Olaf, the EU anti-fraud office, has also launched a probe into Wojciechowski's EP travel expenses in his time as MEP from 2004 to 2016.

But, Aubry, the French MEP, noted that such public enquiries did not fall under the legal affairs committee's mandate and "would not be part of the review framework of our commission".

Other information unveiled by media, for instance, concerning Spain's Borrell, French candidate Sylvie Goulard (single market), Croatia's candidate Dubravka Suica (democracy and demography), and Hungary's candidate Laszlo Trocsanyi (enlargement), also falls outside the mandate.

Borrell has faced questions over his board membership of bankrupt energy firm Abengoa.

Goulard is under investigation by French authorities for allegedly misusing EP funds in her time as MEP to pay assistants in French national political parties.

She has also faced questions in French media for receiving thousands of euros from the Berggruen Institute, a US think-tank.

Croatian media have asked how come Suica is the owner of millions of euros of real estate despite her modest salary.

And Trocsanyi has had to defend outsourcing of government contracts in his time as Hungarian justice minister to a law firm which he himself founded.

Rubber-stamp committee?

For Aubry, all that meant the legal affairs committee's work constituted a "formality" rather than genuine oversight.

"Parliament is asking us to rubber-stamp the papers without making waves. No means are given to verify the contents of the declarations," she said.

Another EP source, speaking to EUobserver off the record, defended the EP's role.

"We're not investigators. We're not the police. We just need enough clarity [on the financial declarations] so that the [public] EP hearings can go ahead," he said.

Aubry broke the confidentiality rules of the legal affairs committee by speaking out on social media, he added.

And he defended the secrecy of the procedures, saying the EP had no right to "go public just on suspicions" of impropriety on behalf of nominees.

But Aubry denied breaking any rules in comments she made to EUobserver later on.

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