The European Parliament has begun confirmation hearings for the next European Commission. Britain’s Baroness Catherine Ashton was first to take the stand, to discuss her role and qualifications.
Approved by the EU’s 27 leaders as the bloc’s new high foreign policy representative, she needs the approval of MEPs — also to be a Commission vice-president.
Each designated commissioner spends three hours with the parliament committee specialising in his or her field of responsibility. Members of the public may attend. The appointees, one from each country in the European Union must demonstrate their competence for the portfolio they have been assigned.
A vote on the whole Commission is due on 26 January. It can be vetoed. In 2004, the parliament made clear it would not accept a Commission if it included Italy’s Rocco Buttiglione, nominated for justice commissioner.
This reaction to remarks he made about homosexuals immigrants and women meant the line-up had to be changed.
Antonio Nissiroli with the European Policy Centre said: “I think it is also useful in terms of transparency. It gives the public the possibility of seeing what is happening in the Parliament. It also gives MEPs the possibility of asking relevant questions and making their weight felt by the other institutions. So I think it is a good practice, it is not perhaps perfect at this stage, and it is a work in progress, but it is a good practice.”
The European Parliament is the only institution of the EU whose members are directly elected by the people of Europe. Each of the bloc’s governments nominates a commissioner, who is expected to work in the common European interest.
The commissioners serve for five years. As a body, they are responsible for proposing legislation and implementing or enforcing community decisions.
Their president, Jose Manuel Barroso, re-appointed for a second term, will earn some 24,000 euros per month, his teammates around 20,000.
The new Commission was to have started work last November, but Lisbon Treaty delays pushed it to this February. Outright political challenges from the Parliament do not seem to be on the cards, and the commissioners-designate in the hot seat have had extra time to master their dossiers. The hearings are scheduled to conclude next week.