Two experienced diplomats kicked off the three-day series of hearings in the European Parliament, answering questions about CAP reform, the EU’s finances and double majority voting.
Starting the series of hearings of the 10 new Commissioners, Latvia's Sandra Kalniete, Hungary's Peter Balázs and Malta's Joe Borg, made an appearance before the Parliament on 13 April 2004.
Sandra Kalniete, a professional diplomat and Foreign Minister since November 2002, will be shadowing Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler (see EURACTIV
Interview). As yet without any real political responsibilities, she sees the coming month as a good chance to learn about EU agriculture and fisheries issues. Moreover, she wants to play an important role in enhancing the Commission's communication efforts.
A strong proponent of CAP reform, Ms Kalniete stressed the importance of sustainable development which should be firmly based on all its three pillars: social, environmental and economic. In her view, agriculture has to play an crucial role in this. Questioned about the effects of the negotiated 'phasing in' system for the new member states, which might expose farmers to unfair competition, Ms Kalniete replied: "Would it be better then for our competitiveness to stay outside? My answer is no, this is evident".
Peter Balázs, a former ambassador, served as Hungary's minister for EU integration. Shadowing Jacques Barrot who recently replaced Commissioner Michel Barnier, he will be focussing on regional policy and constitutional affairs (see EURACTIV
Interview). The main issues discussed at his hearing were the financing of the EU's cohesion policy and double majority voting in the Council under a new constitution. He has strong hopes that the latter could be overcome under the Irish Presidency.
Mr Balázs, who emphasised that EU regional policy must be radically overhauled, believes that the key question consists in the Community budget's ceiling on own resources. He is in favour of keeping Member States' contributions at a level of 1.24 per cent of GDP, out of which 0.41 per cent of GDP should be attributed to regional policy.
Joe Borg, the Maltese Foreign Minister, was also heard in Parliament. He will be shadowing Poul Nielson in development and humanitarian aid issues.