Conflicts of interest, sexist comments and competent women: What to expect from the new EU-Commission

The European Parliament launched the hearings for Juncker’s Commissioner’s team on the 29th of September. „The Economist“ comments:  „MEPs are determined to leave their mark on the new team“ – especially as President Jean-Claude Juncker was pretty much imposed by the European Council. The hearings are not a piece of cake for the candidates: The European Parliament has the power to veto the entire Commission team and has in the past made use of this power to reject candidates it did not see fit for the job. Exciting times for the usually quite dull EU politics.

„MEPs are determined to leave their mark on the new team“

Only a few candidates have been questioned for now. The hearings will carry on early next week. Nonetheless, it is not too early to comment on those Juncker has chosen to be part of its new team.

The Spanish candidate for the energy and climate portfolio, Miguel Arias Cañete, faced harsh questions by MEPs. He has been accused of uttering sexist comments against a female socialist candidate on Spanish TV. He said that “a debate between a man and a woman is very complicated because if you use your intellectual superiority, it appears you are a male chauvinist cornering a defenseless woman”. Despite an official excuse, it is questionable whether someone who „has a political thought process that is not compatible with the 21st century” should be part of the Commission. Let’s not forget that the EU is a forward thinking body, in which gender equality is supposed to be respected and praised.

 It is questionable whether someone who „has a political thought process that is not compatible with the 21st century” should be part of the Commission.

Moreover,  the EU’s unexplainable decision to put together the portfolio of climate and energy into just one „department“ raises questions on how serious the EU takes the issue of climate change. This is even more the case as Canete’s interest in tackling climate change is more than questionable as he holds strong personal ties to the oil and gas industry (he sold his shares in two Spanish oil companies just before his appointment. His family still retains shares in these companies – after all, it would be too bad to lose all these investments). This appointment can bee seen as a huge blow to the EU’s climate change efforts, and goes in line with the lack of support for the EU carbon emissions scheme, which has dramatically failed due to the efficient lobbying of energy companies in Brussels. As a Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Environment in the centre right Spanish Government, Canete didn’t oppose oil drilling in the Mediterranean (who cares about oil spills when it just concerns working class Germans drinking beer on Mallorca). Results of the hearing: 76 MEPs have signed a petition calling for Cañete’s appointment to be blocked, most of them from the Greens and the left.

Canete didn’t oppose oil drilling in the Mediterranean (who cares about oil spills when it just concerns working class Germans drinking beer on Mallorca).

But Canete is not the only one who has been chosen for his good intentions. After all, Jonathan Hill, a former financial services lobbyist, is supposed to become the next one in charge for the financial portfolio. Sven Giegold of the German Greens explained that Hill’s nomination equals to „letting a fox guard the henhouse“ – after all, the role of the Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union is surely to best protect the City bankers from unwanted legislation. Let’s also remember that a British Tory, opposed to the EU in the first place, whose country is not in the Eurozone, should be responsible for finalizing the banking union between those Member States in the Eurozone. In regards to this absurdity, Hill was required to answer what the UK’s position is regarding European banking union. Hill has also been requested submit a completed questionnaire on behalf of the UK Government before the second hearing on Tuesday, 7 October. Given his ties with the UK government, Hills will be asked to describe his „strategy“ in dealing with „potential conflicts between UK and EU objectives“ when London will renegotiate its relationship with the EU. He will appear in front of the EP for a second hearing early next week – an „exchange of view“ which might turn out to be quite tricky for the Baron.

Sven Giegold of the German Greens explained that Hill’s nomination equals to „letting a fox guard the henhouse“ – after all, the role of the Commissioner for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union is surely to best protect the City bankers from unwanted legislation.

Finally, further interesting appointments have been made. The former energy commissioner Günther Öttinger (who was sent to Brussels due to a scandal in regional elections in Germany in the first place) had made a good job in his last position. But now, Öttinger, who is not exactly famous for being a „digital native“ according to his own words, will be responsible for the digital agenda. Not only is the portfolio of minor relevance (although it is a „topic which will gain relevance in the future“). It is also a blow to Germany’s position of power inside the EU.

Pierre Moscovici, France’s former finance minister, is supposed to become in charge of the economic portfolio.  Fyi: Moscovici was Minister when France failed to meet the EU budget deficit rules. He had to endure a „torrid hearing“ according to the Financial Times. After all, it is hard to believe that Moscovici would penalise his own country for breaching eurozone deficit limits.

All in all, we can expect another lovely 5 years in Brussels when on the 1st of November the Commissioners will start their work.

All in all, we can expect another lovely 5 years in Brussels when on the 1st of November the Commissioners will start their work. One thing is sure: they won’t lack work. Unemployment is still soring in Europe, the Eurozone needs to be fixed, the banking union completed, and energy security has become a particularly relevant subject in regards to the tense situation with Russia. One can also hope that despite Mogherini as new High Representative for Foreign Affairs, the EU will be able to give unanimous responses to threats such as ISIS or the conflict in Ukraine.

But all hope is not lost. There are two good news in this new Commission. The appointment of the former Swedish Commissioner for Home affairs to take over the trade portfolio from ultraliberal Karel de Gucht can only be a good thing. Cecilia Malmström made a stand for more transparency in the negotiations concerning the free trade agreement with the US (TTIP). The questions is whether she is on the same page as Commission President Juncker on TTIP. All in all, during her hearing she seemed to have a good understanding of her new portfolio and was able to convince the MEPs of her competence.

Moreover,  Bulgarian Comissioner for Humanitarian Aid Kristalina Georgieva who will be appointed as Vice President of the Commission responsible for budget and human resources is particularly competent – she even gained a round of applause during her hearing for her strong performance. Especially her answer to the question from a UKIP parliamentarian made the audience laugh. The MEP asked her how she would cut the “enormous bureaucratic machine” of the EU, which in his words was bigger that the British army. Georgieva replied.“I’m worried for the British army“.

These two women make up for the lack of  credibility of some of their future male colleagues. Let’s hope that the MEPs use their veto power to get rid of those candidates not fit for the job.

These two women make up for the lack of  credibility of some of their future male colleagues. Let’s hope that the MEPs use their veto power to get rid of those candidates not fit for the job. Let’s also hope that Juncker, who is known to be fond of the drink, did chose Mr. Canete and Mr. Hill by mistake. Otherwise, I’m deeply worried about some of the decision-makers chosen to „govern“ for the next five years.

TIMELINE

9th of September: Maltese Karmenu Vella, Swedish candidate for the trade portfolio Cecilia Malmström, the Croat Neven Mimica and German candidate for the digital agenda Günther Oettinger had to answer the MEPs questions.

30th of September: Portuguese Carlos Moedas, Greek Dimitris Avramopoulos, Cypriot Christos Stylianides as well as Lithuanuan Vytenis Andriukaitis, Astrian Johannes Hahn and Slovak Maroš Šefčovič responded to the EP’s questions.

1st of October: Romanian Corina Creţu, British candidate for the financial portfolio Jonathan Hill, Hungarian Tibor Navracsics, Belgian Marianne Thyssen, Czech Věra Jourová and the Spaniard candidate for energy and climate commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete had their „hearing“.

2nd of October: French former Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici, Bulgarian Kristalina Georgieva for internal affairs, and Danish Margarethe Vestager, Irish Phil Hogan and Polish Elżbieta Bieńkowska were heard.

6th of October: Latvian Valdis Dombrovskis, Slovenian candadite for the energy union portofolio Alenka Bratušek and Italian High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini are expected to respond to the MEP’s questions.

7th of October: Finnish Jyrki Katainen and Dutch Vice-President Frans Timmemans are the last two to be heard by the EP.

On the 22nd of October the European Parliament will vote upon the new Commission. Juncker’s team will then start its work on the 1st of November.

 

Sources

http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2014/09/europes-new-commissioners

http://www.euractiv.com/sections/eu-elections-2014/georgieva-teaches-juncker-college-masterclass-308895

http://www.euractiv.com/sections/eu-elections-2014/georgieva-teaches-juncker-college-masterclass-308895

French-German twentysomething living in Berlin. Winner of the blogging competition "Zukunft Europa", organised by the debating magazine "The European" and the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. The views expressed are mine and mine only /// Deutsch-Französin und Berlinerin. Gewinnerin des Blogger-Wettbewerbs "Zukunft Europa" des Debattenmagazins "The European" und der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung. Die Ansichten, die auf diesem Blog vertreten sind, sind meine (und keine Anderen.)

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