Pierre Moscovici and Jonathan Hill, the French and British Commissioners-designate, will spend their weekend answering written questions from MEPs to stay in the race for the Juncker Commission. The exercise seems to be tantamount to a written deal that they won’t act as the “Trojan horses” of their influential countries in the EU executive. EURACTIV France reports.
Moscovici, the French Socialist nominated to the Economic Affairs and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs portfolio, and Hill, Commissioner-designate for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union, are the only members of the proposed Juncker Commission to submit written questions to MEPs following their hearings.
Following a late night decision in the European Parliament’s economic committee, Moscovici must respond to further detailed policy questions by Sunday evening before deputies will consider approving him.
Centre-right and liberal lawmakers gave Moscovici a severe grilling on Thursday, challenging his ability to discipline Paris for missing EU deficit targets it missed on his watch and trying to make him condemn France’s 2015 budget.
At the same time, according to a letter seen by Reuters on Friday, Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee asked Jonathan Hill to answer in writing by Sunday evening 23 questions that the lawmakers felt were insufficiently addressed during Hill’s hearing in the committee last Wednesday.
They asked Hill to write back to them detailing the Capital Markets Union concept, as well as his views on issues like high frequency trading, the digital currency bitcoin, an EU deposit guarantee scheme, and debt issued jointly by the eurozone.
Apart from the additional requested written answers, Hill is expected to face a second hearing on Monday or Tuesday.
In fact, Hill made a rather good impression at his hearing, but MEPs appear to need written insurance that he would not be a lobbyist for the London city in the EU executive. Similarly, Moscovici basically needs to put in writing that he will not be a Trojan horse shielding France from sanctions over its budget deficit.
Intentions under the microscope
MEPs from the right and the centre continually suggested that the French Commissioner-designate had a conflict of interests between his nationality and his desired role.
“Would you be an Animal Farm Commissioner, where some are more equal than others?” asked Esther de Lange, a Dutch member of the EPP.
“Your credibility problem is that there is a difference between what you should do and what you could have done. You could have already done what you are promising to do,” Othmar Karas, a right-wing Austrian MEP stressed.
The French candidate responded to these attacks by promising that he would represent the general interest of Europe, and not the interests of France. “I am not here to be my country’s advocate, not its prosecutor or it judge,” he assured MEPs.
Blows from both right and the left
MEPs from the left and the southern member states criticised Pierre Moscovici for his indirect participation, in his role as French Finance Minister, in the austerity programmes that were forced upon them, pushing people into poverty.
“How will you compensate Greece? How dare you destroy the lives of Europeans?” a Greek MEP asked.
Moscovici responded that “the Troika has done what was necessary to stop Greece defaulting, but its methods need modifying”. He then followed the example of Marianne Thyssen, adding that Europe needed to become a more social place.
Reform of budget framework, FTT and six-pack
Pierre Moscovici also called for necessary reforms to the 2-pack and the 6-pack, two legislative packages specifying the timetable of Commission/State exchanges during the preparation of budgets. “I want to review these rules. We have to review their social effects and ensure that we take more than money into account. And the administration should be simplified. We have to work for greater social cohesion,” the candidate said.
The Commissioner-designate then indicated that he would insist that the Financial Transaction Tax (FTT) was implemented quickly, if possible under the Italian presidency, before the end of the year.
Schulz and Juncker to discuss hearings
The hearings have strained relations between the parliamentary groups.
The EPP declared in a press release that the French candidate was less than convincing, while Alain Lamassoure, the head of the French UMP delegation, who told EURACTIV.fr last week that “if [the left] call for the head of one of the EPP Commissioners, two heads will roll,” thought Moscovici showed “conviction in his commitment to Europe”.
For the Socialists, Pervenche Beres criticised the UMP for playing a game that could damage France.
According to a European Commission spokesperson, on Thursday afternoon, Jean-Claude Juncker believed that all the hearings had gone well. He would, however, discuss them with the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, to try and smooth inter-party relations. The credibility of the institutions would suffer if the parties were to carry out reprisals against each another.
“The problem is that the European Parliament has to dislodge a Commissioner in order to exist. By threatening to vote against Moscovici if the centre, the left and the Greens vote against Cañete, the EPP risks undermining the credibility of the European Parliament if the College of Commissioners remains intact,” a source from the institutions informed EURACTIV.fr.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, announced the distribution of portfolios among his new team on 10 September.
Among the new Commissioners, due to take up their posts on 1 November, are 18 former (prime) ministers. The President has announced that the new Commission will be "very political".
The new Commission must now be approved by the European Parliament, who will interview the Commissioners between 29 September and 7 October. During these two weeks of hearings, the 27 Commissioners will be interviewed by MEPs from relevant parliamentary commissions. The European Parliament must then accept or reject the whole team.