European commissioner nominees have submitted responses to MEPs’ written questions ahead of the confirmation hearings in the European Parliament that begin today.
Two consistent themes emerge. Most nominees are keen to stress their commitment to the European project and each nominee has also attempted to pre-empt the particular concerns that may come up at their hearing.
One of the written questions to submitted to all the nominees asks them about their “European commitment”, specifically how they would “promote the European general interest” over the national interest of the country they come from. Many nominees used their previous experience at European level to answer this question. Miguel Arias Cañete, the nominee from Spain to become commissioner for energy and climate, wrote: “For my entire political life I have been closely involved in the construction of the European Union”. He pointed out that he has served in the European Parliament for 13 years.
Margrethe Vestager, Denmark’s nominee to become the commissioner for competition, stressed the need for European unity and says she will work “to create a Europe where we can live in peace and in relative prosperity”. Valdis Dombrovskis, the Latvian nominee to become Commission vice-president for the euro and social dialogue, wrote that he has extensive knowledge of how the EU functions, saying that his nomination “is rooted in the belief in the European project”.
“I am convinced that a more ambitious and smarter Europe is the best answer to the future geopolitical and economic challenges that our countries face in the 21st century,” he said.
Jonathan Hill, the UK nominee to become commissioner for financial services, is less effusive in his response. He says the decline in turnout in the European Parliament election shows that politicians have lost public trust. But he notes that the EU’s single market of 500 million people gives European countries “a bigger voice on the world stage” and “the ability to make trade deals on a European scale”.
“I am keen to play my part in making the argument that the UK is stronger as part of a stronger EU,” he wrote, adding that as a commissioner he will “act objectively and impartially in the common European interest,” – a clear effort to allay concerns that he would represent British interests while overseeing the EU’s banking union.
Click here for the written questions and answers from the European Parliament
Some nominees appear to be taking liberties in terms of their past support for the EU. Karmenu Vella, the Maltese nominee to become the next commissioner for environment and fisheries, wrote: “I am a convinced European, having voted for my country’s accession and, more recently, as a minister in a pro-European government led by a former member of the European Parliament.”
How Vella voted in his country’s referendum on EU accession can be known only to him, but in public he campaigned against accession. Ten days before the vote, he took part in a televised debate arguing against accession. He effectively abstained from the vote in the Maltese parliament in 2003 to ratify the country’s EU accession treaty, by not showing up to the vote.
Nominees who must address concerns during the hearing have taken measures to address them in their written answers too. Cañete promises that he “will never act on issues of my portfolio in which I could have personal, familial or financial interests”. He also disputes recent claims that he acted in the interest of his family while serving as agriculture minister. “I never took decisions on issues where I could have directly or indirectly any interest, and when I estimated that my independence could be dubious I refrained from intervening,” he writes. He adds that “all relevant contacts with stakeholders and lobbyists” by him or his services will be made public.
Cecilia Malmström, the Swedish nominee to be trade commissioner, also emphasises transparency in order to ease MEPs concerns over the EU-US free trade agreement she will be negotiating. She says she will visit the Parliament’s trade committee on a regular basis to keep them informed.
Alenka Bratušek, the Slovenian nominee to be Commission vice-president for energy union, has made efforts to pre-empt questions about her lack of experience and the climate of political turmoil in which she nominated herself to become commissioner. She says that she played an “active role” in preparations for the Slovenian presidency of the Council of Ministers in 2008, heading a budget sub-group. She notes that the year-and-a-half during which she was prime minister of Slovenia was a “very difficult time for my country”. She added: “I am proud because many observers were convinced that my Government would not be able to solve their own problems and that my country would go bankrupt. They were wrong.”
“I am deeply motivated and committed to promoting the European general interest,” she wrote. “I see the European Union primarily as a guarantee against growing insecurity worldwide. The next five years will be decisive for the EU.”
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