Commissioner Hearings – What was the point?

Lord Hill during his #EPHearing. Image from here.

Words by Glenn Vaughan, Chief Executive

Despite scepticism about the process, the European Parliament has done an important job well. In the end, the commission will start work on time. That’s good, because they have plenty to do – especially improving Europe’s industrial competitiveness.

According to your point of view, the confirmation of the commission team proposed by Mr Juncker this week was the completion of a dramatic moment of high political import; or a welcome end to overly extended political grandstanding. In this latter view the hearings were dragged out as part of a game of institutional politics designed to affirm and extend the power of the parliament.

It would be easy to go along with the storyline peddled by sceptics about the EU, or its parliament specifically. Easy because there are enough grains of truth from other occasions for the story to have a little credibility. That would be easy but lazy. The reality is that Parliament was doing a job that it is required to do by the treaty – as pointed out by British Chamber Adviser, Richard Corbett, in his recent blog article. You wouldn’t expect it to do so without asking tough questions.

Various changes to portfolio responsibilities were made, commitments given and priorities signalled. The most significant moment was the withdrawal of former Slovene Prime Minister Alenka Bratušek as a candidate commissioner. But then this was no big surprise. Her performance at her hearing was, in the words of European Voice, “spectacularly bad”. 

That might have been ok for a minor portfolio with limited impact, but more had to be expected of one of Mr Juncker’s much more important Vice-Presidents. Finally, Parliament was right to look closely at the circumstances of her nomination and the possible misrepresentation of the Slovenian ethics commission report on the matter.

Parliament did its job quite well, and surprisingly to some, it also did so rather efficiently. There had been much speculation on the amount of time it would take to get a new commission approved. Partly because of the expectation of even greater disagreements over the nomination by the Council of a President of the commission, but also in expectation of further disagreements between political groups in the assembly itself.

So, the new commission will be ready to take up the reins on time, at the beginning of November. That’s great news because although our recent survey of members recognises that the EU is making good progress on business priorities like the single market and trade, it really has much more to do on industrial competitiveness.

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