3rd Mar 2024

Game, set and match to Ashton on diplomatic hearings

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton has won a minor battle with the European Parliament over the issue of whether MEPs' hearings with new EU ambassadors should be held in public or behind closed doors.

"Mr Albertini has agreed that all the hearings will be in camera. We are now working out the timing with the Afet committee and we hope that these hearings will take place as soon as possible," Ms Ashton's spokesman, Darren Ennis, told EUobserver on Thursday (18 November), referring to Italian centre-right MEP Gabriele Albertini, who heads-up the assembly's foreign affairs body.

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  • Ashton (c) at an Afet hearing. The dispute turned ugly when she cancelled an October hearing the day before it was due (Photo: European Parliament)

"These hearings are in camera for a reason and that reason is an agreement with Afet to make sure they are as open and full and frank as possible, so the MEPs can ask the questions they want and will get the answers they require."

The spokesman gently warned euro-deputies not to brief journalists on who said what in the cross-examinations and underlined that parliament has no power to veto European External Action Service [EEAS] postings, unlike the US Congress.

"We hope obviously the members of the committee respect the rules that have been agreed. These are not Congressional-style hearings. She is the appointing authority. These people have been appointed by the high representative/vice president [Ms Ashton] and they will take up their posts - that is not in question," he added.

EUobserver understands that the hearings are to take place in late November and early December and are to involve the new EU envoys to China, Georgia, Japan, Lebanon and Pakistan. Any hearings with future EEAS envoys are to follow the same format.

Afet had originally called for the hearings to take place in early October, before the ambassadors had had a chance to exchange formal papers with their host countries and swot up on their new dossiers. The hearings were also to be held in public, raising the prospect of one or another candidate looking weak and facing pressure to step aside.

The disagreement turned ugly when Ms Ashton cancelled a scheduled hearing the day before it was due to take place.

An exchange of phonecalls and letters in recent weeks led to the final accord, which represents a complete climbdown by MEPs. "She stood her ground and she got what she wanted," an EU diplomatic contact told this website. Mr Albertini was not immediately available for comment.

The dispute is one of several generated by the parliament trying to extend its power in Brussels following the passage of the Lisbon Treaty. Member states last week also put their foot down with euro-deputies on the EU budget for 2011, walking out of negotiations when MEPs tried to secure their involvement in EU's next multi-annual budget from 2014 on.

In separate news, a source in the EU institutions told this website that Angelos Pangratis, the current deputy head of the EEAS mission in Washington, is to be appointed as the new ambassador to the World Trade Organisation in Geneva.

The 54-year-old Greek economist was formerly posted by the European Commission in Argentina, South Africa and South Korea. He was also head of unit on China in Brussels.

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