Written by Nicole Zandi, trainee in Members’ Research Service
The seven Vice- Presidents were among the last of the Commissioners-designate to have their hearings. All but Kristalina Georgieva, who had her hearing on Thursday afternoon, appeared in the second week, starting on 6 October. Although there was little to alarm most prospective Vice-Presidents, one – Alenka Bratušek – was outright rejected by MEPs. The former Slovenian prime minister, nominated as Vice-President for Energy Union, went into the hearing facing accusations that she had improperly nominated herself for the position, after failing to win the recent national elections. Moreover she was widely criticised for giving too many vague responses to questions in the hearing itself, and not being able to demonstrate mastery of her portfolio.
Problems for Juncker
Bratušek’s rejection, by an overwhelming vote – 112-13 – of the Environment and Industry Committees, leaves Juncker needing a Slovenian replacement and a new Vice-President. In addition, given the focus on the number of women in the Commission in the run-up to the nominations of the Commissioners-designate, he is under strong pressure to ensure her replacement is a woman. With Juncker scheduled to meet Slovenia’s new nominee, political newcomer Violeta Bulc on Tuesday evening, it is still far from clear what portfolio she might be given, and what other portfolio changes might be required to accommodate her – or even if Juncker will accept the new Slovenian government’s nomination. The parliamentary vote to confirm the full Commission, due on 22 October, may need to be pushed back depending on the schedule for additional hearings that would be needed.
The six other Vice Presidents-designate were backed by MEPs following their hearings, This includes female Vice-Presidents designate Kristalina Georgieva and Italy’s Federica Mogherini. Georgieva told MEPs she thinks of herself as a ‘public servant’ and promised that she would sort out the EU budget for next year, focus on job creation, provide aid to the poorest economies and push social inclusion. Meanwhile Mogherini noted her aim to ‘engage Russia’ and shape a ‘real EU foreign policy’ at Monday’s hearing. Also heard on Monday, Valdis Dombrovskis was later approved 54-37, with 11 abstentions, after he celebrated the success of the euro and promised to focus on investment. Later, Andrus Ansip endorsed EU-funded software and a safe, open digital market in the EU.
Jyrki Katainen, whose hearing was on Tuesday morning, managed to overcome concerns from centre-left MEPs that he may be too keen to promote austerity measures. During his questioning on Tuesday he urged members to focus on similarities between Member States, rather than the differences. The Dutch nominee for First Vice-President, Frans Timmermans, gave a more than competent performance, in several languages, to complete the set of hearing, confirming his own support for multi-lingualism. He also celebrated Winston Churchill’s vision which led to the European Convention on Human Rights. He said, however, that there was a need to address some of the problems suffered in individual Member States with regard to rights.