Thursday

23rd Jan 2020

Three at-risk commissioners try to win over MEPs

  • The other two would-be commissioners that are in trouble are France's Pierre Moscovici and Miguel Canete from Spain (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Three of the five commissioners that are facing difficulties in their European Parliament hearings spent their weekend doing homework, handing in elaborate responses running to thousands of words.

The Hungarian (Tibor Navracsics), Czech (Vera Jourova) and British (Jonathan Hill) commissioners, in charge of education, justice and financial services, respectively, were all sent back to the drawing board after inconclusive hearings last week.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

Of the three, only Hill is actually to face another cross-examination, while the others are hoping their written replies alone will convince wavering MEPs.

A European public prosecutor in 2016

Jourova, whose portfolio spans a large policy area including consumers and gender equality, faced the most questions (45) across a wide-range of issues running from Roma rights, to data protection, to women on company boards and corporate laws.

Among her answers she pledges to try and get the European public prosecutor’s office in place by 2016; do her "utmost" to unblock an equality law that would ban discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation; "revitalise" negotiations on a failed maternity leave law; and uphold the principle of free movement of people which "should not be taken hostage for political purposes".

In answer to MEPs' concerns that her portfolio is too broad, she noted that: "While the portfolio covers a wide-range of areas, it has a coherent set of values."

"I intend to put people at the centre of my work, based around the three principles of more choice, more protection and more trust."

While Jourova had the most questions to answer, Hill's replies to his 23 questions were the lengthiest with the document running to 22 pages.

UK commissioner to serve in the "general interest'

In it, the British Conservative, who came under fire for giving vague answers last week, sought to allay MEPs' concerns about his alleged closeness to the financial sector and about his nationality, as the UK is set to take political centre-stage in the coming years over its EU membership.

"If confirmed, I will be a European Commissioner, serving the general interest, not any one member state's interest," he said.

In response to a question about which financial services clients he had worked for when he was a lobbyist he noted that he has "no directorships, no shares, indeed have no interests at all, in any financial services companies".

He also notes that the period since he left a consultancy was "three times as long" as the 18 months required by EU commission rules for a person taking up new employment in the same sector.

On eurobonds - a form of debt mutualisation across the eurozone favoured by several MEPs, but highly controversial - Hill noted that it is "very unlikely that a consensus on issuance of eurobonds can be achieved at this time".

While questions to Hill and Jourova stayed mainly on upcoming policies, Navracsics was asked to explain several past policy moves by the Hungarian government which have caused clashes with Brussels.

Taking distance from Orban

Over the course of his six replies, the former foreign minister made several attempts to distance himself from Budapest, noting a couple of times that he "no longer belongs" to the government.

His lengthiest answer is on Hungary's media law, which critics say is an attempt to clamp down on free press.

"Numerous aspects of this original text did not reflect my personal views," said Navracsics. He added that the final version came about after discussion with the EU institutions, however.

He promised to "fully respect" media freedom and pluralism when he is commissioner.

"I regret that sometimes in the past, not enough importance has been given to this important aspect by the Hungarian government, to which I no longer belong."

Asked about Hungary's "highly controversial policies in the field of education," Navracsics noted that the government's attempts to centralise education policies were due to earlier decentralisation leading to poorer education standards rather than any "ideological ambition".

When asked to "officially and publicly condemn" Hungary's media and judiciary reforms "that you inspired" he said the process of discussing the laws with Brussels had been instructive and the laws were changed in light of demands by the EU and by the Council of Europe, a human rights watch dog.

"I learnt that it would have been wise to engage in these discussions and consultations earlier, and in a more sensitive manner as regards the importance of fundamental rights and the rule of law across the European Union."

US diplomat lashes out at Hungary's Orban

Victoria Nuland, the US' top diplomat on Europe, has indirectly criticised Hungarian leader Viktor Orban for the “cancer” of “democratic backsliding”.

Decision day for EU's at-risk commissioners

On the last day of commissioner hearings, MEPs will decide what to do with remaining at-risk candidates after rejecting Hungary's Navracsics on culture.

Croatia's EU presidency optimism beset by problems

Croatia wants to focus on economic development, connectivity, internal and external security and a globally more assertive Europe over its six-month presidency - but Brexit and the next budget negotiations may put pay to that.

Spain poised for first coalition government since Franco

Spanish caretaker prime minister and Socialist Party (PSOE) leader, Pedro Sánchez, is expected to win the second investiture vote on Tuesday - after he lost the first attempt on Sunday in an extremely tight result.

Catalan support for Sanchez breaks Spanish deadlock

Catalonia's largest separatist party to abstain during the upcoming confidence vote in the Socialist-led government in exchange for promises of political dialogue. Meanwhile a Belgian judge has suspended an arrest warrant for Carles Puigdemont.

News in Brief

  1. UK watchdog unveils online child-privacy standards
  2. Alleged 'bully' nominated for EESC presidency
  3. Greens/EFA fail to agree on accepting Catalan MEPs
  4. MEPs approve over 55 gas projects for EU funding
  5. Italy deputy PM Di Maio quits as Five Star party leader
  6. EU investment bank to keep pressure on Turkey over gas
  7. 'Rare' migrant boat from Belgium to UK sinks
  8. First annual rule of law report expected this year, Reynders said

Wilmès becomes first female PM of Belgium

On Sunday, Sophie Wilmès was appointed as the new prime minister of Belgium - becoming the first female head of government in the country's history. She replaces Charles Michel who becomes president of the European Council.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. EU warned on 'vigilance' after Davos spy fail
  2. What's Libya's impact on EU foreign policy?
  3. EU commission 'lacks ambition' on future conference
  4. Will US privacy-lite hollow out GDPR?
  5. Senior Polish member at EU body faces Belgian abuse probe
  6. Why isn't Germany helping gay rights in Hungary, Poland?
  7. US retiree, scammed by former EU official, awaits justice
  8. Vienna-Brussels night train returns amid EU green talk

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us