An Update from the European Movement

12th January, 2010

European Movement Ireland

The team at the European Movement have sent through the below excellent update on the Commission hearings this week. Thanks to them for sending this through.

“Firstly, let me all wish you all a Happy Birthday. Today is officially our birthday as an organisation – we are 56 years old!

And what a gift. Commission hearings all week long…
Every five years a new European Commission is appointed – but before it can start work the European Parliament must confirm these nominations. Today marks the beginning of an important phase in this process – from now until 19 January, the 26 Commissioners-designate will be put through their paces by our MEPs as they argue why they are the best person for their particular Commission portfolio. The hearings should provide an interesting indication of what’s in store from these new Commissioners over the next five years and how the Parliament is adjusting to its new found powers since the passing of the Lisbon Treaty.

Interestingly, the Parliament must accept or reject the Commission as a whole – it does not vote on the individual nominees. The European Commissioners are referred to as a College and the European Parliament will vote to approve or reject the entire College. However it is well known that MEPs can apply pressure to have portfolios reshuffled and potential Commissioners removed – remember Buttiglione?

There are four main steps in this Commission hiring process which culminate in a Parliamentary vote which is set to take place on the 26 January. These hearings form step three – if you want to know the full details of how this process works, check out our briefing note on our website which you can find here. You’ll also find the timetable of the Commission hearings there too, along with a quick downloadable profile of each of our Commissioners.

The hearings themselves
Each hearing is estimated to last not longer than three hours with up to six taking place every day. The hearings begin with a presentation by the nominee and the members of the Parliamentary Committees are then free to ask the nominee some questions. It is likely that if a nominee has been a Commissioner before that their work in their previous portfolio will be examined and scrutinised. However, the scrutiny is not limited to previous European work and questions can relate to any period of a nominee’s career and in some cases relevant questions to their personal life and relationships. While the hearings will concentrate mostly on policy and less on the personality of the candidates, some will need to “come clean” about their past or conflicts of interest. Fun, eh?

Hearings to watch out for…

Before she even stepped into the European Parliament, UK Commissioner-Designate Catherine Ashton has faced scrutiny over her husband’s alleged KGB affiliations and her previous role in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. She’s actually just finished her Committee and initial reports say it was a bit of a battle but that she made some pretty forthright comments on Iran, made the Israel-Palestine situation a clear priority for her term in office and that all in all, the tide does not seem to be against her appointment.

Bulgarian Commissioner-Designate Rumiana Jeleva’s hearing tomorrow will doubtlessly be in the spotlight amid recent allegations that her husband has connections with the organised crime networks that plague Europe’s newest member. This is the one hearing that everyone will be watching…

It’s the turn of our own Maire Geoghegan-Quinn who takes to the hot seat this day. The only other Irish face in the room in her hearing will be Brian Crowley, a fellow Fianna Fail member from our South constituency. Wonder what questions he has for her…

The hearing of Germany’s Günter Oettinger on Thursday should also make for some viewing as he has been seen as a surprise choice, by both German and EU pundits. He is known to have limited European political experience and has been busy being Prime Minister of Baden-Wittenburg right up to Christmas, which has not given him a huge amount of time to prepare for the questions on his portfolio – energy. An interesting one to watch as he could be a real breath of fresh air in the process.

Danish Commissioner-Designate Connie Hedegaard could also potentially face a grueling hearing this Friday. Given the underwhelming outcome of the recent Climate Change conference in Copenhagen which Hedegaard chaired, she’ll face some tough questions before she is confirmed as the EU’s first Climate Action Commissioner.

Italian Commissioner-Designate Antonio Tajani’s hearing next Monday will be another ‘one to watch’ given his role as a founder member of Forza Italia and his position as Berlusconi’s spokesperson during his first term of office as Prime Minister.

A fairly easy day, both potential Commissioners should not cause any major calamity…. we hope!

And another date for your diary…
As you will know from our previous email, our Conversation with…John Bruton that was due to take place today in the Shelbourne Hotel had to be rescheduled due to the weather. We are delighted to tell you that this has now been rescheduled to Monday 1 February. Our 56th anniversary celebrations will also take place during this Conversation event, as originally planned. Once again we would like to thank everybody for their understanding about our need to reschedule and we look forward to see you all on 1 February.”