Brian Hayes MEP

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European Commissioner Hearings – The Process Explained

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Article by Brian Hayes MEP which appeared on The Journal on 29th September 2014

flags-of-the-eu-member-countriesTODAY WILL SEE see the first of the 27 European Commissioners-designate going before the committees of the European Parliament, but what can we expect to happen?

Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Junker announced the allocation of portfolios amongst his potential College of Commissioners in early September. Despite some assuming that this was the end of the process, it was only the beginning.

Ireland secured a nomination to the wide ranging portfolio of Agriculture and Rural Affairs with Phil Hogan. Taoiseach Enda Kenny deserves credit for helping to secure this nomination.

But crucially because the Irish economy has been turned around our reputation in Europe has dramatically improved. Getting one of the big jobs in the Commission is a good example of how far the country has travelled since the bailout and the troika.

The next 10 days are a critical time for the next five years of the European Union. As the possible future “Junker Commission” goes before us here in Parliament we will test and examine their policies and positions. During their five year term they will promote and protect the interests of the EU as a whole.

Once in office they must not work for the interest of their home State and the collective will be their priority. As Commissioners they will also have collective responsibility – like our own Cabinet system in Ireland. This means that it is vital that we, as elected MEPs and the representative of you the citizen, rigorously examine their strengths and weaknesses for the job.

Commissioners-designate will be given five written questions in advance of their committee hearings to facilitate their answers being translated into the languages of the EU.

Two of these will be common to all Commissioners-designate and will cover competence and knowledge of portfolio / cooperation with parliament. The remaining three questions will be committee specific. Where more than one committee is involved in a hearing, they may submit two written questions per committee. Phil Hogan will have five written questions from the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

In contrast, Vĕra Jourová, the Czech Commissioner-designate for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality will have four “responsible committees” examining her capabilities; Internal Market and Consumer Protection; Legal Affairs; Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs and the committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.

The hearing for each Commissioner-designate are listed to last for three hours each and are an intensive interview process with experienced politician from all over the EU putting them through their paces.

This however will be nothing new to the interviewees who include 5 former Prime Ministers, 4 Deputy Prime Ministers, 19 former Ministers, 7 returning Commissioners and 8 former Members of the European Parliament.

In my committee, ECON  all five relevant Commissioners-designate will have to attend. These include Finland’s Jyrki Katainen a potential Vice President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and Britain’s Jonathan Hill, the Commissioner-designate for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Union. Jonathan Hill’s portfolio will be of significant importance to the thousands of Dubliners employed in Financial Services.

Phil Hogan will go before the Agriculture and Rural Affairs committee this Thursday at 9am and will begin his hearing with a 15-minute speech followed by questions from the full 45 member committee, including Mairead McGuinness from Fine Gael and other Irish MEPs. We will have to see if MEPs genuinely use the hearings to test the competence of commissioners or just attempt cheap political point scoring.

Once the questions have been put and the answers given, each committee will have 24 hours to finalise its evaluation, while it can ask for further written information, the face to face questioning is over.

An evaluation report on each Commissioner-designate is then sent to the Conference of Committee Chairs and the Conference of Presidents of the European Parliament. They can then declare if the hearings are closed or seek further information.

While the European Parliament committees can question individual Commissioners-designate, the parliament itself must vote on the entire slate of commissioners and either accept or reject the Junker Commission en-mass.

This vote will take place on 22 October and the magic number is 376, which is a simple majority of the 751 strong Parliament.

The published article is available here http://www.thejournal.ie/phil-hogan-european-commission-1695620-Sep2014/


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