Friday

22nd Mar 2019

EUobserved

Death by 'hearings'

Please make it stop. Or should that be start? In the absence of news – aside from the stuff that’s happening outside, beyond and despite Brussels – we have ‘hearings’. Commissioner hearings.

It is a poor thing to fill this Brussels news vacuum. Yet filled it must be. For nothing else is happening in the EU capital. We’re waiting for Jean-Claude Juncker. Or, more precisely, we’re waiting for Juncker’s team.

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Current commissioners are looking to other horizons. No one is saying anything of consequence. Or if they are, they shouldn’t be because, politically, they’re already out.

And the ones coming in aren’t saying anything either. They’re all swotting up on their new dossiers and getting their officials to explain to MEPs – in writing – why they are good Europeans. Whatever that should mean.

The Brussels press pack was beside itself when the Luxembourger at long last revealed what everyone would be doing for the next five years.

It was able to finally stop writing about Juncker’s farcically difficult quest to find nine women commissioners (after Belgium begrudgingly, in overtime, and under threat of its putative male commissioner being put in charge of the canteen, opted for a woman).

But that was two weeks ago now.

In the meantime it has been discussed ad nauseam how well the person matches the portfolio. What those seven 'super commissioners' will do. Whether Frans Timmermans, previously a foreign minister, moved up, sideways or down by taking charge of cutting red tape, even if he will be a 'first VP'. Whether Guenther Oettinger knows what the internet is. What's the difference between digital economy and digital single market. Do we need a commissioner for space. Who gets to sort out the 'Google issue'. Does it matter if you nominate yourself to be commissioner. Is Jyrki Katainen, aka "acknowledged fiscal hawk" a little bit evil. And who is Lord Hill.

And now it is the turn of the hearings. The European Parliament is all puffed up and preening. One commissioner must go. Preferably two. Then the apex of commissioner-toppling achievement - year 2004 - will be matched.

The EP is tweeting a countdown to the opening day - next Monday, after lunch. There are almost 200 pages of information on the matter. There have been several explanatory press conferences. The wanna-be commissioners will be grilled for three hours. They'll have 45 questions. Most will face one or two committees in the hearing - some a cacophonous five.

Who will fall by the wayside? There are known wobblers. And unknown ones. Letters have been written. Financial disclosures have been made. Shares have been sold. There is nothing else happening in Brussels.

It will be political, says the EP's spokesperson. It will certainly be party political.

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