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Round-up of the hearings of Commissioners-designate – week 1

Written by Conall Devaney, trainee in Members’ Research Service

The Parliament is due to vote on whether to approve the new Commission on 22 October, but it is as yet unclear whether this deadline can be met. Following six days of intensive questioning of Commissioners-designate by individual committees, President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker knows he has to make changes if his Commission is to win the EP’s approval. Alenka Bratušek, Vice-President designate responsible for Energy Union, failed to convince MEPs of her suitability for the job and withdrew. She looks likely to be replaced by Violeta Bulc, currently a minster in the Slovenian government, but due to lack of political experience Bulc is not expected to take up the position of Vice-President. This, along with the objections raised to the Hungarian Tibor Navracsics means that President-elect Juncker will be forced to reshuffle his team in the coming days. 

TeamJunckerEU

Day 1

Germany’s Günther Oettinger emphasised the importance of creating a digital common market, as well as the need for better support for internet start-ups and placing a greater emphasis on IT skills in the education system. Sweden’s Cecilia Malmström acknowledged that a lack of transparency and information over TTIP had led to growing scepticism amongst many people. She is determined to strive for greater transparency and accountability in her new portfolio in order to restore trust, suggesting that citizens’ panels would go some way to achieving this.

Neven Mimica, set out three priorities: Firstly, to deliver a post-2015 Millennium Development Goals framework; Secondly, to negotiate and launch a post-Cotonou framework and to strengthen the Union’s strategic partnership with Africa, and thirdly, to achieve greater coherence and coordination within the Commission itself. Karmenu Vella defended the merging of the environment and maritime portfolios in his brief, stating that blue and green issues were two sides of the same coin.

Day 2

The Austrian Johannes Hahn faced MEPs on Tuesday. He confirmed Juncker’s July statement that no new country will join the EU in the next five years, but that thorough oversight of accession candidates was still necessary. Vytenis Andriukaitis listed improving primary healthcare and supporting universal health coverage as his main priorities. He also sought to reassure MEPs that European safety standards would not be lowered in accommodating a successful completion of the TTIP negotiations.

Maroš Šefčovič stated that it was necessary to plan 20 to 30 years ahead with regard to transport policy, which was essential for the EU’s continued competitiveness. Dimitris Avramopoulos meanwhile said that it was necessary to rethink the EU’s approach to immigration. Although it was important that border controls should be tightened it was equally important that the EU should not become a ‘Fortress Europe’. Given current demographical trends it was important to attract young skilled workers. 

Carlos Moedas said that investment in research was crucial for the EU’s long-term growth prospects. A key task in the coming years is to cut red tape, making it easier to start research projects. Christos Stylianides‘ main aim will be to work closely with the High Representative for foreign affairs Federica Mogherini in identifying the root causes of humanitarian problems instead of reacting to them. ‘Each euro invested in resilience saves €7 in emergency aid’, Stylianides noted.

Day 3

Jonathan Hill was called back to a second hearing

Jonathan Hill was called back to a second hearing

Wednesday 1 October saw the hearings of perhaps the three most controversial candidates, beginning with Jonathan Hill, Commissioner-designate for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. MEPs on the Economic Affairs Committee were initially not convinced that Hill answered with enough authority on issues such as the new Banking Union, harbouring enough doubts to ask him to appear again for a second hearing on 7 October. Following assurances on his independence, pro-European credentials and ability to act for the broader EU good, and not just represent the interests of the UK financial sector, Hill was approved with a vote in favour of 45-13.

Another controversial figure who also faced MEPs on Wednesday was the Spanish EPP member Miguel Arias Cañete, Commissioner-designate for Climate Action and Energy. Mr. Cañete had come under fire, particular from the Greens, given his family’s ties to the oil industry. The Spanish candidate had also caused controversy after having initially failed to declare earnings on a position he had previously held in the Spanish conservative party (PP). Despite these controversies Cañete nevertheless won the support of the committee 83-43.

No less controversial was the Hungarian Tibor Navracsics, Juncker’s candidate for the Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship portfolio. The Hungarian government in which he was ‘no 2’ has been heavily criticised over its higher education policy, infringements of freedom of speech and attacks on left-wing NGOs. The Culture and Education Committee formally rejected him for this portfolio on 7 October. It remains to be seen whether President-elect Juncker will seek to move Navracsics to another role or simply transfer the responsibility for citizenship to another portfolio.

Corina Crețu told the committee that she is dedicated to European integration and EU rules. However, some MEPS were not convinced that she has a clear idea of how to control some of the budgetary problems existing within her portfolio. Marianne Thyssen made clear that she is a ‘firm believer in the social economy, where liberty, responsibility and solidarity come together’. She has promised to protect social rights and the rights of workers if confirmed. Vĕra Jourová faced tough questioning from the Legal Affairs Committee with some MEPs unconvinced that she had a solid grasp of the portfolio. However, she was finally accepted by the Committee.

Day 4

On Thursday Phil Hogan promised to reduce the bureaucracy surrounding the CAP and strengthen efficiency over the next legislative term. Elżbieta Bieńkowska stated ‘Let’s get Europe back to work!’, stressing the need to foster industrial competition and increase support to SMEs. Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva promised to tackle inefficiencies in the EU budget in her term, ensuring that money flowed to those areas where it was most needed. Margrethe Vestager said that competition policy plays a key role in boosting growth and employment and warned against protecting companies against competition at the expense of the consumers.

Read more: #EPHearings2014: Meet the Commissioners-designate!

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