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The Commission’s hearings in the European Parliament

October 6, 2014
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Ever since the Commission of Jacques Santer, the European Parliament (EP) has been assessing the competence of EU Commissioners’ candidates in a procedure known as “hearings.” The goal of hearings is to assess candidates’ general competence, their commitment to the EU, personal independence as well as the knowledge of their respective portfolios.

In the last couple of days, the proposed members of the new European Commission (EC), under the leadership of Jean-Claude Juncker, have been under intense cross-examination by the members of the Parliament (MEP), who threaten to use their power to reject the appointment of certain commissioners. The majority of the proposed Commissioners “went through”, however, the possibility of being sent back home still threatens the candidates from Spain and Hungary.

Although the hearings are not yet completed, Juncker might be in a situation to act proactively – to withdraw candidacy for those whose appointment seems questionable, in order to avoid the situation in which the parliamentary rejection of a candidate would have a domino-effect on other members of the EC.

One of these candidates is Miguel Arias Cañete from Spain, a candidate for the EU commissioner for climate action and energy. He has not received the approval of the Parliament yet, since the socialist group of MEPs delayed giving their support. In his speech to the EP, Cañete supported the pipeline network project “Southern Corridor,” since the gas pipeline “South Stream” does not comply with EU regulations.

According to the project, “Southern Corridor” would have two gas pipelines, one from the Caspian Basin and one from the Central Asia, and would arrive from Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and other neighboring countries, except Russia. This project would be a significant gas supply source for the EU and, importantly, would be independent from Russia.

Cañete sounded fairly convincing when explaining how this project would ensure lower dependence of the EU on Russian gas, arguing that it would strengthen linking of the energy networks of the EU member states. According to him, efforts shall be made not only in ensuring that the EU is not dependent on one external gas supplier, but also to fully develop the internal energy market, with cross-border networks and significantly higher efficiency in terms of energy consumption.

Despite the support of the EP for this project, Cañete’s appointment is still up in the air as he is accused of conflict of interest. Namely, as a Commissioner for climate action and energy, he would need to be in charge of EU climate policy, which is problematic, knowing that he has private financial interests in the oil industry. Numerous German organizations for environmental protection believe that Cañete is a bad candidate since he could undermine the energy changes in Europe, being an oil industry lobbyist. 300,000 people signed a petition against his nomination, including 76 MEPs, mainly from the Green and leftist parties.

Cañete was recently a member of the board of two oil companies (which are usually identified as major air-polluters), being the largest shareholder in both cases. In order to avoid accusations of a conflict of interest, he sold his shares for 437,000 euros to his family members. At the hearing, he was asked about the number of shares his brother-in-law has in these oil companies, but he remained consistent in replying that his wife and son no longer have shares in these two oil companies.

Another proposed Commissioner has had difficult time at the EP hearings as well. Tibor Navracsics, proposed Commissioner for Education, Culture, Youth, and Citizenship from Hungary, was vehemently questioned about his competence for this position, bearing in mind that he is a member of the same party as the Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose government, according to many critics in Brussels, has been working against liberal democracy and freedom of the media and NGOs. Navracsics has been considered a close associate to Orban and was his Minister of Justice, carrying out the reform of the legal system, which was very negatively received in Brussels.

Hearings follow a well-defined structure, and a detailed explanation can be found on this website:
*http://www.elections2014.eu/en/new-commission/hearings

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