Brussels. The EU, as of 1 November, will have a new commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker, the veteran Luxembourgish politician. It is the result of an intense process lasting almost a month, during which MEPs have scrutinised the candidates in public hearings. Even though vetting by the parliament has existed since 2004 this has been the first time the nominations have had to reflect the parliamentary group composition. All in all this has been a process saluted as an exercise in democracy and transparency, aiming to renew the confidence in the European institutions. The empowered parliament is certainly seen to bestow democratic legitimisation to the decision-making capacity of the Commission.
The result signifies a grand coalition between the centre-right and the socialists; the European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialists & Democrats and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) voted in favour of the new executive, which counts 28 members. As expected, the European United Left, The Greens, and the group for Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy rejected Juncker’s candidates, and the Conservatives and Reformists abstained.
Six candidates faced heavy questioning. While Vera Jourovà from the Czech Republic, Tibor Navracsics from Hungary, Miguel Arias Cañete from Spain and Pierre Moscovici from France, had to undergo additional scrutiny.
Vera Jourovà, a member of Liberal ALDE group, in charge of “justice, consumers and gender equality”, had to explain her “complex portfolio” and more relevantly, her plans on maternity leave, freedom of movement and the European public prosecutor.
Tibor Navracsics, responsible for “education, culture, youth and citizenship” is a former justice minister and foreign minister in the government of Viktor Orban. After his performance, perceived as arrogant even from sympathetic MEPs, he was explicitly asked to “take officially distance from the stances of your party FIDESZ, the Hungarian government and your Prime Minister Viktor Orban”. His portfolio regarding citizenship was eventually re-assigned to Dimitris Avramopoulos, the Commissioner in charge of Immigration. In return, the Hungarian Commissioner has received the Sports portfolio.
Conservative MEPs questioned Pierre Moscovici on his suitability to supervise budgetary discipline across the EU, before emerging as the new economics commissioner. The EPP held that he disregarded the EU’s Stability and Growth Pact as former French finance minister.
For Miguel Arias Canete, the Parliament had asked for legal consultation with regards to his links with the oil industry. He and his family had just completed the sale of shares in two oil companies before the hearing.
In a move to appease the socialists Juncker appointed his close collaborator, Frans Timmermans, in charge of sustainable development. This was the product of a negotiation linked to the acceptance of the Spanish Conservative Migel Arias Canete, as in charge of energy and climate change.
The UK’s Conservative Jonathan Hill had been asked both for new written responses and to return to the Parliament on Tuesday for a second private hearing. Designated for the financial services portfolio, he had to give assurance that he would not act as “a representative of the City of London”. His party’s increasingly anti-EU stance weighed in on the committee’s decision.
In addition, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the commissioner for industry, was relieved of responsibilities for pharmaceuticals, now taken up by the Commissioner-designate for Health, Vytenis Andriukaitis.
Jean-Claude Juncker addressing the thorniest internal European problem said: “I want Europe to be dedicated to being triple-A on social issues, as much as it is to being triple A in the financial and economic sense”. He was also applauded in Parliament when he commented on the constitution of his Commission: “9 women out of 28. It’s ridiculous”.