Kroes sails through second parliamentary screening

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Neelie Kroes has managed to convince MEPs that she is up to the job of commissioner for the EU’s ‘Digital Agenda’, according to MEPs who had the opportunity to quiz the Dutch candidate for a second time.

After a shaky first hearing last week, Commissioner-designate for the Digital Agenda portfolio Neelie Kroes appeared before the group coordinators of the European Parliament’s industry, research and enterprise (ITRE) committee yesterday (19 January). The meeting took place behind closed doors and against the wishes of European Commission President José Manuel Barroso (EURACTIV 18/01/10). 

MEPs continue to question Barroso’s new line up ahead of a vote on the new commissioners, expected on 26 January. 

Kroes – who was widely expected to sail through her first audition last Thursday (14 January) – was either too “weak”, according to some MEPs, or had left some questions unanswered, according to members of the ITRE committee (EURACTIV 15/01/10). 

“We are positive on Neelie Kroes and know she is extremely competent, but we wanted to confirm certain issues,” Lena Ek, MEP and ITRE co-ordinator from liberal parliamentary group ALDE, told EURACTIV after yesterday’s informal meeting with Kroes. 

Second time around, Kroes’ answers were “shorter, concise and more to the point,” according to Ek. 

Dutch MEP from the Parliament’s Socialists & Democrats group Judith Merkies, who had to lobby her way into today’s private meeting, said she no longer doubted Kroes’ ability to manage the Digital Agenda portfolio. 

“Though I am not in favour of the new Commission from a political viewpoint, today Kroes has met all the conditions to be nominated,” Marisa Matias, ITRE co-ordinator in the GUE/NGL parliamentary group, said after the meeting. 

MEPs were concerned because Kroes’ first hearing did not provide assurances that she would cooperate with the Parliament in her future role as Digital Agenda commissioner. 

Ek told EURACTIV that in Kroes’ previous role as competition commissioner, there was almost no legislation and not much need to cooperate with MEPs. 

However, she explained, her new portfolio is almost completely concerned with legislation. 

MEPs were also pleased that Kroes had ignored Barroso’s advice not to attend yesterday’s informal meeting. They interpreted her attendance as a sign of her commitment. 

Ek also discredits speculation that Kroes will be next to leave the line-up after Bulgarian Commissioner Rumiana Jeleva fell at the first audition and as a result resigned yesterday (EURACTIV 19/01/10). 

“Jeleva was an exceptional case,” Ek said in relation to the Bulgarian candidate. 

“My prognosis is that they will all go through now.”  

Dutch news reports lay the blame on President Barroso for Kroes’ unimpressive performance at the first hearing. Barroso reportedly told his line-up to err on the side of caution by not giving away too much to MEPs during the hearings.

Neelie Kroes began her political career as a member of the Dutch parliament for the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). Later she was the Dutch state secretary and minister of transport, public works and water management. 

Kroes stepped into her European political career as competition commissioner in 2004. During her first round of hearings for the competition portfolio in 2004, she came under fire over allegations that she had accepted bribes (EURACTIV 05/10/04). 

Since then, she has become known as an outspoken commissioner who takes on dominant players in the market. Between 2004 and 2009, she extracted $2.4 billion in fines from Microsoft. 

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