Commissioner-designate: ‘I gave general answers to general questions’

At his hearing at the European Parliament, Hungarian Commissioner-designate László Andor was criticised for providing “too general” answers. But many of the questions themselves were also too general, Andor told EURACTIV Hungary in an interview.

László Andor is the Hungary’s commissioner-designate for employment, social affairs and inclusion. He is an economist, a lecturer at several universities and an advisor to various governmental and non-governmental bodies.

Andor was speaking to EURACTIV Hungary’s Szilvia Kalmár.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.

What is your impression from this hearing?

The hearing is very important. It gives the MEPs the opportunity to become acquainted with my ideas about the portfolio. I tried to give the best answers as possible according to my preparedness, and strived to explain clearly what a commissioner in this portfolio can and cannot do to fight this crisis.

It was a common understanding that this field is exceptionally important, and that for employment and job creation more has to be done than has been the case until now. There are of course difficulties. It is very hard to define the tools available for this portfolio and also it is difficult to depict the methods of prompt intervention at EU level.

How did you prepare yourself for the hearing? Did the respective Commission specialists help you in your preparation?

First of all, the Commission staff has to hand over relevant information about the portfolio. They informed me about their work until now, but they also passed over their concept and knowledge about the different areas of this portfolio.

I also have been supported by different Hungarian specialists. The Foreign Ministry has offered its help and of course I have consulted colleagues who are representing the country in the [European] Council. I talked to professionals from Ministry of Social Affairs in Budapest. I strived to collect necessary information and viewpoints from all possible sides.

At the hearing you mentioned that you will try to use ‘all possible means’ that this portfolio provides you. But you also said that the tools are quite limited. The listener might have had the impression that you are not satisfied with the breadth of the portfolio. Do you think that the dozens of areas you have to coordinate are commensurate with the available means?

The means and also the range of their application are very clear to me. I wanted to make clear for the MEPs what I can do, what I can do in the short term, and what I have to do along with other commissioners.

At the hearing I repeatedly said that in certain matters I need to cooperate with other commissioners. If we talk about unemployment, I have to talk to Commissioner [Antonio] Tajani [Industry and Entrepreneurship], but in cases of creating jobs, especially regarding the demand side, there is Olli Rehn [Economic and Monetary Affairs] to discuss with. There has to be a very tight cooperation.

Several MEPs criticised your answers. They said they were too general and too superficial (EURACTIV 14/01/10). You also admitted at the end that you may have formulated your ideas in too general a manner. Did you try to avoid giving concrete answers to save time for the discussion? 

Indeed it has been said one or two times that my answers were too general. This was because the questions were also too general, or they concerned a problem for which we do not yet have an action programme.

Don’t you think that the Parliament hearing is designed to give an impression of the candidate’s vision?

Vision is a general notion. I have concentrated on this: I wanted to talk about my vision, my general goals, my own concept about the portfolio and the included areas.

You mentioned several times a Green Paper on pensions. Could you summarise what the proposal is about?

The Green Paper should be published in spring. It reviews the different pension systems in Europe, and summarises the different reforms that have been tried out in respective member states.

It maps all the possibilities and the demographic, social and other challenges that European pension systems have to face. The basic problem is ageing populations and increased life-span. The latter is of course a good thing in itself, but it has an effect on pensions, at a time when employment structures have also changed. The circumstances have changed and the pension systems are not sustainable.

Work is mainly done at the national level but the Commission wants to support the structural changes for two different reasons. First of all there are many more analytical tools at EU level to receive a broad picture about the problem. Secondly, the consequences of mobility have to be dealt with at EU level, so it would be worth having an EU approach.

You have mentioned that you are against the ‘Fortress Europe’ principle, and do not support the exclusion of immigrants. Does this mean that you would like to handle the problem of ageing populations by attracting migrants to the labour market?

I don’t think one could make such simplifications.

Regarding pension systems I have to cooperate with Internal Market Commissioner Barnier, and Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Olli Rehn. The Green Paper also has to be finalised in our trio.

Regarding immigration however, I have to talk to Commissioner Malmström [Home Affairs] and Commissioner Reding [Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship], as this is a completely different problem. I have to handle the social effects of immigration and the integration of immigrant communities into the labour market and social welfare systems.

At the hearing, you were very firm regarding the Working Time Directive. You mentioned the sectoral approach as a possible answer. Does this mean that there will be different regulations on different sectors?

I underlined the importance of a completely different approach, as the causes of the failure of the previous conciliation rounds are very clear.

One of the possible methods is the mentioned sectoral approach, but not in the sense of having different regulation for different sectors. We have to separate the most sensible ones from others.

The healthcare system, the fire service, police forces are very sensible in this regard. The situations when the Commission has to ponder whether it starts a proceeding against the respective member state or not are mostly related to these sectors.

You have shown concrete commitment to dealing with Roma issue in the future Commission. Will you cooperate with Lívia Járóka on this matter, the only Roma MEP and a strong campaigner on Roma policy?

Of course. I was very happy to receive questions about this and I have spoken in high terms about the work done by Ms. Járóka in the European Parliament. She has helped to bring this issue on a higher, European level, providing serious tools and coordinating the strategies of the member states.

I think we have to build upon the results that have been achieved in the previous period. 

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