Tuesday

26th May 2020

EUobserved

'So how will you achieve world peace commissioner?'

So how will you achieve world peace commissioner *designate*? Yes, the past four days have been all about Brussels’ political beauty pageant.

Over three hours, and 45 questions (often padded out with more-or-less relevant streams of an MEP’s consciousness) the commissioners-to-be have been whinging, flattering, cajoling, monotoning, joking or outright boring their way through their European Parliament hearings.

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  • Canete - faced a hard time in the hearing. But the EPP is sticking by him (Photo: European Commission)

With most of the commissioner heard, some observations may be drawn.

The opening statement is some mixture of the following (with only the first being obligatory). It contains many compliments about the importance of “this house”; it is self-deprecating, it is made in all the languages a hear-ee knows (even ones they don’t really know); it contains all the painful jargon that the commissioner has just been forced to learn; plus any “awkwardness” that is better getting out in the open immediately.

Hence Spanish Miguel Arias Canete on being sexist: “I made an unfortunate comment”; Hungary’s Tibor Navracsics on relations between Budapest and Brussels (there’s room for disagreement in the EU); Vera Jourova on her jail time; and Lord Hill gently loving EU membership.

When doubts are being expressed about your suitability – due to your just-sold shares, or your nationality – it's best to appear to have friends.

So Canete linked theoretical arms with Connie Hedegaard, (climate action commissioner); Lord Hill mentioned lunch with Michel Barnier; while France’s Pierre Moscovici repeatedly pulled “son ami Wolfgang Schaeuble” out of the hat.

A little scepticism is allowed. A la Austrian commissioner Johannes Hahn. "Is there 1 or 1.5 minutes to explain the future of Ukraine?” (Silly, there are two minutes.)

And misunderstanding a question – wilfully or otherwise –can be very helpful too. An expansive answer by Hahn about being willing to work long hours and even weekends sailed obliviously past the point of the question. (Which was how long do you think would-be member states will wait to get into the EU before they get impatient and walk away).

The Greek candidate wins for best response to the accusation that he failed bring up a topic (“Because I was waiting for someone who feels as strongly as I do about it to bring it up”), Ireland’s Phil Hogan gets the ‘laconic’ prize (“Olive oil is not a big issue in the country I know best") while Claude Moraes wins the mildly-threatening-MEP category for reminding the “commission-designate" to stick to time rules.

Props are good too.

Glasses help not only to do some in-hearing cramming of notes (Hill) but can also be used to convey trustworthiness - removal of glasses to convey a frank message (Hill and Moscovici) - or waste a bit of time before answering (ditto).

Meanwhile, some words can also be a prop, covering a vacuum of uncertainty. In Guenther Oettinger’s case, the word that took the weight of the German’s testimony on its fragile shoulders was “infrastructure”.

Special mention should go both to Belgium's Marianne Thyssen and Hungary's Tibor Navracsics for lasting three hours, despite their flimsy portfolios. Thyssen referred to "encouraging" people to do things, while Navracsics riffed a lot on sport.

Alas it all matters not. (Not only because the seven vice-presidents- plus Juncker's chief of staff - will wield all the real power)

It turns out that, once again, Socialists like the Socialist candidates. And the EPP their centre-right candidates. Eject one and the other gets ejected too.

Tit-for-tat.

Stalemate.

Bye bye looking for talent, questions of substance. The pretence was nice while it lasted.

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