Bratušek’s poor showing adds to Juncker’s worries

Will Alenka Bratušek be the "digital champion" industry has called for? [UKOM/Wikimedia Commons]

Slovenia’s Alenka Bratušek, Commissioner and Vice-President-designate for Energy Union, made an unconvincing appearance in front of two European Parliament committees today (6 October). 

It’s another blow to Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker’s new team, as it fights for MEPs’ approval in the ongoing confirmation hearings. It follows Commissioner-designate for Climate and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete’s disastrous performance before MEPs last week. 

Bratušek, a former prime minister, was interrogated by the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy, as well as by the Committee of the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety. 

In his mission letter to Bratušek, Juncker gives her responsibility for steering and coordinating the work of several Commissioners. They include the Commissioners for Climate Action and Energy; Transport and Space; Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs; Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries; Regional Policy; Agriculture and Rural Development; and Research, Science and Innovation.

Juncker, himself a former long-serving prime minister, has put his trust in other former prime ministers, giving them Vice Presidencies and important portfolios. As well as Bratušek, there is Finland’s Jyrki Katainen, responsible for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Latvia’s Valdis Dombrovskis, responsible for the Euro and for Social Dialogue, and Estonia’s Andrus Ansip, given the Digital Single Market portfolio.

Juncker reportedly believes that Bratušek deserves praise for having stopped her country from having to seek an EU bailout. Last year, media reports speculated that Slovenia would need €5 billion to recapitalise its banks. But under her leadership, the country took difficult measures and avoided an international bailout.

>> Read: Slovenia self-inflicts austerity plan to avoid bailout

Bratušek was criticised for having appointed herself as Commissioner in the last days as prime minister after losing the July election.

>> Read: Political novice wins Slovenia election

Pressed by MEPs at the hearing, she said she had proposed three candidates, including herself. She thanked Juncker for having chosen her. This, however, didn’t satisfy MEPs, who said it smacked of corruption.

Bratušek was also reproached for having sung a communist song. A video circulating on social media shows her singing “Evviva il comunismo e la libertà“, the best-known line from “Bandiera Rossa”. Also known as Avanti Popolo, it is one of the most famous songs of the communist era.  Bratušek replied the song was seen as an anti-fascist song in her country and she personally saw no problem in singing it.

Asked about her portfolio, Bratušek failed to convince. She made only general comments about the need to complete the internal energy market and to build infrastructure. She often apologised for repeating herself.

Few MEPs tried to help Bratušek, who is – in theory at least – a liberal. In fact, she only recently created a liberal party. It has just four MPs and is not yet affiliated to the ALDE group in the EU Parliament. 

Following last week’s hearing of Miguel Arias Cañete, Bratušek’s underwhelming performance suggests that the Juncker Commission’s energy ”cluster” needs serious rethinking.

>> Read: Cañete’s hearing spells trouble for Juncker

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.

>> Read more: Live: public hearings of Commissioners-designate

  • 7 October: last day of the normal round of hearings of Commissioners-designate;
  • Probably on 7 October: Jonathan Hill to face another hearing;
  • 7 October: Extraordinary meeting of the Conference of Committee Chairs to evaluate the outcome of the hearings.
  • 8 to 9 October: The Groups will meet on Wednesday 8 October in the afternoon and on Thursday 9 October in the morning in order to evaluate the hearings.
  • 9 October: The Conference of Presidents meets to declare the hearings closed and finalise the evaluation
  • 22 October: Vote in Plenary

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