Analyst: MEPs rejecting Hill is tantamount to ‘nuclear option’

Jonathan Hill, The UK's commissioner. [UK Perm Rep]

Among the “problematic” candidate-commissioners, the one which the European Parliament would most like to disqualify at the hearings starting next week is the UK’s Jonathan Hill. But this would amount to launching a nuclear attack. That’s why it is more likely that MEPs will try to “take the scalp” of a candidate from a less strategic country, an expert told EURACTIV.

Marco Incerti, Research Fellow at the Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) told EURACTIV that would not exclude that one or more candidate-commissioners be rejected following the hearings that are taking place between 29 September and 7 October.

“The kinds of language I hear from some MEPs make me believe that it is not unthinkable that one or the other commissioner gets rejected,” Incerti said. He added that this language is new, because for a few weeks, the feeling was that Parliament had obtained what it wanted from the battle between the leading candidates of the political groups.

On 15 July, the Parliament elected the ‘Spitzenkandidat’ of the centre-right EPP group Jean-Claude Juncker to lead the European Commission from 1 November, with a massive vote from MEPs.  The Socialists and the Liberals praised the many openings he made in his election speech towards their own political priorities.

>> Read: Parliament elects ‘politically ecumenical’ Juncker as Commission President

“Of course there is this list of three-four names that appears to be quite disturbing for the Parliament”, Incerti said, recalling that similar objections had in the past led to rejections.

>> Read: EP committee rejects Buttiglione

>> Read: Bulgaria’s Jeleva bites the dust in Parliament

Incerti named Spain’s Miguel Arias Cañete,  Jonathan Hill, Hungary’s Tibor Navracsics and the Czech Republic’s V?ra Jourová as problematic from the point of view of the Parliament.

“I find it hard to say this will happen for sure. But Cañete is one prominent case, and not so much because of shares in an oil company he already gave away, but more from the sexist remarks, which in the past Parliament as used as a casus belli,” he said.

>> Read: ‘Sexist’ Spanish commissioner under Parliamentary spotlight

Navracsics is seen as an obvious target of MEPs, primarily because he is a close ally to Prime Minister Victor Orbán, whom the Parliament has repeatedly accused of trampling on individual liberties and freedom of the press.  Moreover, Navracsics has been assigned the tricky portfolio of “citizenship”, that is, being the guardian of liberties in the EU context (the full title of the portfolio is Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship). This is seen by some MEPs as putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.

For her part, Jourová, a liberal from the ANO party, was serving as the deputy regional development minister. Her term at the ministry ended somewhat unfortunately with corruption charges. She spent a month in police detention before the case against her was dismissed. 

>> Read: Czech coalition nominates Regional Funds minister for Commissioner

Regarding Hill, Incerti said that influential MEPs considered that the portfolio of “Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union” assigned by Juncker to Hill “is not for that country, or for someone with that kind of curriculum”. He referred to the fact that Hill has been a lobbyist in the past.

“Rejecting Hill will be like a nuclear option,” Incerti said, explaining that the consequences could be far-reaching in terms of Juncker’s efforts to keep the UK on board. Also, such a move would require a broader re-shuffle of portfolios, which would require more time and effort.

Indeed, if MEPs reject Hill, it is assumed that this would be a message that this is not a portfolio for a UK commissioner. In that case, a re-distribution of portfolios would take place.

“Rejecting a British Commissioner can backfire. It is not like rejecting someone who comes from the Czech Republic. And not because it’s Jourová, it’s because […] she has been appointed by a government that is seen as less influential, so MEPs would have less of a problem in picking a fight over her name”, said Incerti, adding that if the Parliament was going out for “scalps”, that was an easier one to obtain.  

He added that Navracsics and Cañete also were in the “easy scalps” category.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the incoming head of the European Commission, unveiled on 10 September an EU executive team that handed key economic responsibilities to French and British commissioners, but overseen by others, in a new-look hierarchy [see press release].

Appointing Britain's Jonathan Hill to a brief including banks and the integration of EU capital markets was widely seen as a gesture to Prime Minister David Cameron, a vocal critic of Juncker and his support for a powerful Brussels that Cameron says could push the UK to quit the European Union.

Pierre Moscovici, the nominee of French President François Hollande, and a proponent of government spending to boost euro zone growth, will run economic and monetary affairs.

But in a sign of the balance struck between the competing interests of the 28 EU member states, both the economy and finance portfolios will be overseen by two vice-presidents on Juncker's Commission.

Former prime ministers Jyrki Katainen of Finland and Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia will be respective vice-presidents, with oversight of Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness and The Euro and Social Dialogue.

Both northern euro zone countries are allies of Angela Merkel, and backers of austerity.

Germany, as the economic powerhouse of the Union, will undoubtedly have a major say in its affairs. Berlin's representative, the outgoing EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger, will be responsible for the Digital Economy portfolio, notably the telecoms industry.

The introduction of an upper layer of seven vice-presidents without their own direct portfolios, including a powerful first vice-president in the shape of Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans, was explained by Juncker as a way to improve the coordination of the Commission's work.

  • 29 Sept.-7 Oct.: European Parliament to hold hearings with commissioners-designate
  • 1 Nov.: Mogherini to take on the role as the EU's High Representative
  • 1 Dec.: Tusk to take on the role as Council President

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