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06/12/2016

Malmström under the spotlight as hearings begin

Trade & Society

Malmström under the spotlight as hearings begin

Cecilia Malmström [European Council]

The European Union’s likely next trade chief Cecilia Malmström will face tough questions about how she would handle free trade negotiations with the United States when confirmation hearings for the new European Commission open today (29 September).

Sweden’s Cecilia Malmström will be among the first group of nominees to former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker’s new European Commission to face scrutiny from the European Parliament. [See the EurActiv calendar of the Commissioner-designate hearings.]

Malmström will have to address concerns among consumer and environmental groups and others that the EU’s plan to create the world’s largest free trade area with the United States could undermine European standards on data privacy, food safety and the environment.

The public hearings, being held over the next nine days, could make or break a plan to reshape the 28-nation EU under new management in an attempt to revive the economy and regain trust among its half-billion people.

Nominees for posts on the EU’s executive Commission, which both proposes EU laws and enforces compliance with them, will be subjected to three-hour hearings that could wreck the line-up proposed by Juncker.

The new team of 28 Commissioners, one for each EU country, includes five former prime ministers. It is scheduled to take over from the current team, led by Portugal’s José Manuel Barroso, for a five-year term starting 1 November.

Lawmakers are uneasy about several of Juncker’s appointments and the nominees from Britain, France, Spain and Hungary are expected to undergo particularly tough cross-examination.

“We will make sure all the commissioners face a very demanding level of scrutiny,” Gianni Pittella, leader of the centre-left Socialists and Democrats group in the European Parliament, said in a statement.

Mistrust

Parliament can only approve or reject the new Commission as a whole, in a vote scheduled for 22 October, but it has used its veto power to oust some nominees in the past.

Two of Juncker’s most controversial decisions were to give Britain’s Jonathan Hill control of banking and to put France’s Pierre Moscovici in charge of budget discipline.

German lawmakers do not trust a Socialist former French finance minister to penalise his own country for breaching eurozone deficit limits, while the left doubts Conservative lobbyist Hill will curb excess in the City of London financial centre.

Hill’s hearing is on Wednesday and Moscovici’s on Thursday.

Environmentalists are furious at the choice of Spain’s Miguel Arias Cañete for a combined energy and climate change portfolio, despite family interests in oil. His hearing is on Wednesday.

Tibor Navracsics from Hungary, whose brief covers education, culture and citizenship, faces a rough time convincing lawmakers concerned about his party’s record on democracy.

Malmström ensured she would have a lively confirmation hearing by suggesting in leaked written testimony to the parliament that she wants to exclude a controversial investor protection clause from a planned EU-US free trade agreement.

Her statement pleased left-wing politicians, who believe that including a mechanism in the agreement that would allow foreign companies to bring claims against a country if it breaches a trade treaty would hand too much power to multinationals.

However, a European Commission source said Malmström’s leaked testimony was wrong, and would be corrected.

So EU lawmakers will want to ascertain Malmström’s real views on the investor protection clause when her hearing starts at 2.30 p.m. (1230 GMT).

Also facing questioning on Monday will be Malta’s Karmenu Vella, put in charge of environment and fisheries, Croatia’s Neven Mimica, responsible for international cooperation, and Germany’s Günther Oettinger, who will deal with the digital economy in the new Commission. 

Background

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.