Tuesday

17th Jul 2018

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.

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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”.

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