Four reasons why commissioners do not make it through the European Parliament
Summary Last week the European Parliament finalised the first hearings of the nominated commissioners. Historically, this does not always go off without a hitch. In 2009, the Commission was delayed for months in the Parliament, and we could very well see history repeat itself in this case.
A version of this post was published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on October 11 2014.
Despite a political truce between the right and left wings in the European Parliament, a number of the Commissioner candidates struggled during the hearings and several had to answer additional questions.
The hearings illustrate the power of the European Parliament to dismiss the Commission, but they are also designed to test whether the candidates are qualified for their new assignments.
Knowledge of the subject matter
The hearings show that four points of interest are important in order to make it through the Parliament. First, the Commissioner must appear competent and knowledgeable in their field. The British candidate Jonathan Hill, for example, ran into trouble last week when he revealed his ignorance in the field of finance.
Amongst other things, he could not answer several questions on Eurobonds and the Banking Union. Because of this, he has been convened to a discussion with the coordinator of the finance committee to prove that he is competent enough in his area of expertise.
Listen to the Members of the European Parliament
Second, the candidates must show that they take the Parliament seriously and that they will listen to the parliamentarians in their daily duties. In 1995, Ritt Bjerregaard also tripped up when she said that the European Parliament was not a real parliament, which did not make her particularly popular with the parliamentarians. All of the current candidates all seem to understand this point, though.
A clear vision
Third, the candidates must have clear visions for their policy areas in order to demonstrate the general direction of their work. In 2004, Mariann Fischer Boel took a wrong turn in this regard when she failed to make her position on agricultural aid clear to the parliamentarians in the Committee on Agriculture.
Margrethe Vestager is an excellent example of a candidate with a strong vision. During her hearing, she spoke against competition distorting tax agreements. At the same time, she emphasised that she would not talk about specific cases before researching them further. The hearings are therefore balancing acts in which the candidates cannot promise too much before the working programme agenda is official. At the same time, they must present their general approach to their fields.
Finally, the candidates must have a good grasp of ethical conduct. Several of the current candidates are under attack on ethical grounds, including the Spanish candidate who had shares in an oil company, as well as the first Slovenian candidate who nominated herself for the position.
It must be of great importance to Juncker that his selection of vice presidents, who will have more power than the rest of the commissioners, is not challenged during the process, because they are vital to the realisation of his political agenda.
His choice of Slovenian Alenka Bratušek as vice president of the Energy Union therefore puzzled commentators, because it was well known that she was facing accusations of nominating herself. On Thursday she withdrew her candidacy.
In short, the candidates must know their areas well, take the Parliament seriously, have clear visions and conduct themselves in an ethical manner.