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23rd Jan 2022

New EU competition chief promises to be impartial

  • "My role is that of a referee" (Photo: European Commission)

The Dutch Commissioner designate on Tuesday (28 September) spoke strongly in defence of her suitability to take on what is arguably the biggest job in the European Commission.

Neelie Kroes, who will take on the Competition portfolio on 1 November, dismissed accusations that her past business links would cause conflicts of interests by saying it is time to look to the future.

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Appearing before a hearing by MEPs, she also insisted that her experience in the business world will help her with the job.

"My role is that of a referee ... We demand impartiality in applying the rules, but we also want our referees to know the game inside out".

Conflict of interests

But despite this, several MEPs asked how she expected to take impartial decisions when she has been on the board of so many companies.

In reply, Mrs Kroes said that she had checked which competition cases being dealt with by the current Commission would mean conflict of interests for her.

There were "only a couple of cases" she said "where it would be wiser" for her to step aside to let another Commissioner decide.

Among these, said Mrs Kroes, there were no state aid cases and a "couple" of merger cases.

Several MEPs also grilled her about her past in the Dutch government.

Austrian Independent MEP Hans­-Peter Martin said "Your name has been linked to many scandals".

She was asked by some Dutch MEPs to explain an abortive sale of six Dutch frigates to the United Arab Emirates in the 1990s as well as her approval, as Dutch transport minister, of a grant to a firm to clean up Rotterdam harbour where the money was paid, but the job never carried out - Mrs Kroes was later cleared of any involvement.

Clashes

She also clashed with fellow Dutch national and Green MEP Paul van Buitenen, recently elected to European Parliament on an anti­fraud ticket, who has accused her of 18 wrongdoings.

"These are unfounded allegations", she said.

Later at a press conference, referring to Mr van Buitenen, the incoming commissioner said "In the Netherlands, and in Europe, thank heavens, we are living in a democracy. You have to prove when someone is guilty and not the other way around".

But she was generally more equivocal about whether she would withdraw her candidacy if she was not approved by the Committee.

"If you don't fit in a team, I then think that I would seriously go and talk with the president of the commission [José Manuel Durão Barosso]", she said.

She was criticised for this answer by Socialist MEPs.

"In general, we are very disappointed by the presentation of the Commissioner-designate as most of her answers were very vague and evasive. That includes her readiness to withdraw her candidacy in the event of non-confirmation by the hearing", said Hannes Swoboda, Jan Marinus Wiersma and Ieke van den Burg, in a joint statement.

The hearings of the rest of the proposed European Commissioners will continue over the next ten days and MEPs will vote on whether to accept the whole team of Commissioners at the end of next month.

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