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European Parliament Update: Hearing and vote on new Von der Leyen Commission

Nowadays, Brussels is obsessed with talking about the new European Commission. First, it was conjectured who will be chosen by their governments for the commission job and after Italy finally gave their name (no wonder they were the last after their national crisis), president-elect Ursula von der Leyen could go ahead interviewing the candidates and setting a new structure for the next European Commission.

In the meantime, the guessing game continued, now with the question of who will get which portfolio and what the priorities of the new commission will be. On 10 September von der Leyen gave the answers. In a press conference (stream here or read here) she presented her team and the new structure of the next European Commission, reflecting the priorities and ambitions set out in her Political Guidelines. COFACE Families Europe assessed the team in a media release, which shows that social priorities are hidden but reinforced under the new Commission.

A couple of other important changes are:

  • It is the first gender balanced commission (13 women and 14 men)
  • There are three Executive Vice-Presidents (last commission had three vice-presidents and one first vice-president)
  • It will apply the ‘One-in, one-out’ principle, meaning if a new law or regulation is created, another one would need to be delete

What is next?

The next step is now for the European Parliament to assess the candidates and give their approval (or rejection). Each of the commissioner-designates needs the consent of the parliamentary committee(s) which they will work with in the future and afterwards the plenary.

In past hearings, the main points of criticism have been some candidates’ lack of specialist knowledge of their portfolio, their vague answers and reluctance to make commitments, the existence of possible conflicts of interests in relation to the assigned portfolio and concerns regarding the integrity of the candidate.

The assessment procedure has two main steps: 1) a written questionnaire of 5 questions on general competence and policy matters linked to the portfolio which has been send prior to the hearings and 2) a single publicly live-streamed hearing with 25 questions lasting 3 hours.

In parallel to first part of the process the legal affairs committee check and assess any conflicts of interest. In their last meeting on 26 September the committee has suspended the candidates from Hungary and Romania. Both have alleged conflict of interests and are thus suspended from taking part in the hearings. Whereas it does happen that a candidate gets rejected based on the 3-hour-hearing, it is the first time that two commission-designate have been rejected before the hearings. It is now up to Ursula von der Leyen (in cooperation with the Parliament) to decide how to proceed and whether or not to ask the national governments in Hungary and Romania to send another candidate for the hearings.

The hearings of the Commissioners-designate are scheduled for 30 September – 8 October 2019.

  • 30/9: Hearings of Šefčovič; Hogan; Gabriel
  • 1/10: Hearings of Schmit; Urpilainen; Wojciechowski; Johansson; (Trócsányi); Kyriakides
  • 2/10: Hearings of Reynders; (Plumb); Dalli; Goulard; Ferreira; Lenarčič
  • 3/10: Hearings of Gentiloni; Simson; Sinkevičius; Hahn; Schinas; Šuica
  • 7/10: Hearings of Jourová; Borrell
  • 8/10: Hearings of Executive Vice-Presidents-designate Dombrovskis; Vestager; Timmermans

Watch live here.

The candidates will need a 2/3 majority in the committee which needs to complete the evaluation within 24 hours and send a letter of recommendation stating whether a candidate is qualified both to be Member of the College of Commissioners and to carry out the assigned duties.

When an agreement is reached, the hearings will be closed and a debate on the College of Commissioners and the programmed will be held in plenary on the 23rd of October in plenary followed by a vote.

And what about the British Commissioner one might ask….
The UK has not appointed a candidate for the Commission as they are meant to leave on the 31 October. However, if this date will remain ‘only’ Halloween and not go down in history as ‘Brexit Day’, the United Kingdom would need to appoint someone retrospectively and this candidate for would also need to go through the same procedure.

And what about the European Elections one might ask…
The latest Eurobarometer has been published! ‘The 2019 European Elections: Have European elections entered a new dimension?’ is based on personal interviews of 28,000 citizens across the EU and analyses national and socio-demographic variations in voter motivation. In particular, the study focuses on the impact of the participation of younger citizens, first time voters and students on the increase of the turnout. You can find it here.

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