Written by Eva-Maria Poptcheva
A debate has been launched as to whether additional parliamentary hearings for Commissioners-designate – beyond the initial scheduled three hours – have any legal basis. The subject was raised when Jonathan Hill was called back for an additional hearing after Members of the Economic Affairs Committee registered their dissatisfaction with the answers he gave in his original hearing on 1 October.
Additional hearings are not explicitly included in Parliament’s Rules of Procedure but they are not excluded either. Rather, the Rules of Procedures provide for the possibility of the committee(s) responsible for the evaluation of the Commissioner-designate in question seeking ‘further information’ after the hearing, in order to complete their evaluation (Annex VI, section 1 c) of the Rules of Procedure). With the consent of the Commission President-elect, this could include an additional exchange of views with the Commissioner-designate.
An additional, informal exchange of views with the Commissioner-designate could form part of the evaluation process, rather than of the hearing proper. Since this evaluation, by the political groups’ coordinators on the committee(s) responsible, takes place in camera, such additional ‘hearings’ of Commissioners-designate would also be held in private, in order to facilitate a frank exchange of views. In any case, the evaluation letter from the committees responsible would refer to both the formal hearing and the additional informal exchange of views with the Commissioner-designate.
Alternatively, an additional, formal public hearing could be held, not as part of the evaluation process, but as a means for the parliamentary committee(s) to gain further information. Only after obtaining this would they be able to start their evaluation of the Commissioner-designate.
The second hearing of Jonathan Hill, Commissioner-designate for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, on 7 October, is not the first of its kind in the history of the parliamentary confirmation hearings, although it is the first to be held in public. In 2010, the Commissioner-designate for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes attended, five days after the official hearing and after she had replied to a second round of written questions (as indeed had Hill), an additional ‘hearing’ in private with the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and the Committee on Culture and Education.
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Who better to explain the intricacies of Commissioner Hearings than the European Parliament Research Service: