France’s European Commissioner-designate, Sylvie Goulard, will have to undergo another hearing on Thursday (10 October). Although the Greens and conservatives do not trust the French candidate, the last-minute support from the S&D group might save her after this tumultuous week. EURACTIV France reports.
Sylvie Goulard, the French pick for Ursula von der Leyen’s team of Commissioners, has undergone a week packed with a series of events. She is now being given a third chance to prove her worth after having both written and oral tests. And the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group might allow her to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
During this week of Commissioner-designate hearings, things have become quite complicated for von der Leyen’s proposed team. Typically, these confirmation hearings are simply a matter of formality, but this year, the hearings have become more professional and more political.
Sébastian Maillard, the director of the Delors Institute, recently wrote an opinion for the Monde that the hearings are”an exercise that strengthens democracy within the Union”.
However, these hearings have also highlighted the shortcomings of von der Leyen’s newly-proposed Commission team.
The Commission President-elect won her bid by a paper-thin majority in the European Parliament last July, with only nine votes more than the required minimum. This means that she does not have the luxury of her predecessors and cannot, therefore, rely on a large majority coalition.
The hearings also demonstrated that MEPs desired Commissioner-designates to be independent, both from their party and country.
And the Hungarian and Romanian candidates were both disqualified before the hearings even started, on the grounds of conflict of interest. The hearings of those that remained were also relatively tough.
Paris and Berlin are getting impatient
In the corridors of the European Parliament in Brussels, MEPs complained about the pressure exerted by Berlin and Paris, particularly on MEPs from the European People’s Party (EPP) and the French socialist party (PS).
Berlin tried to calm things down by recalling that the credibility of this new Commission was in the hands of Germany, through Ursula von der Leyen.
France’s Prime Minister Edouard Philippe even invited the quaestors of the European Parliament to dinner in Versailles on 3 October.
Tensions crystallised around two candidates, Poland’s Janusz Wojciechowski and Goulard, both of whom were invited to go through a ‘retake’ hearing.
For the Polish candidate, MEPs highlighted his incompetence. The Commissioner-designate repeated that he would study his file once he takes on the post.
Goulard was questioned mainly on ethical grounds, notably by other French MEPs such as Geoffroy Didier of the conservative party Les Républicains (LR). However, MEPs questioned her less on issues of competence and expertise. The issue then became a hot topic of debate, particularly among Scandinavians and French socialists.
A real melodrama then ensued.
The French Commissioner-designate was requested to answer a series of questions in writing, to which she provided answers in an almost 50-page-long document.
After she had been reproached for providing very short answers to MEPs, some said at a coordination meeting between parliamentary committees, that her answers were “too long, too detailed”.
And after mainly blaming the candidate for her past activities, MEPs also questioned the size of Goulard’s expected portfolio.
“We do not want the defence portfolio to merge with the industry portfolio. We want it [the defence portfolio] to be among the portfolio dedicated to human rights and security,” said MEP Terry Reintke, the vice-president of the Greens. The German MEP has confirmed that her group will not vote in favour of the French candidate.
Various parties in the European Parliament were, therefore, motivated to request a new hearing to take place “by consensus” on Thursday (10 October) at 9:30 am.
“There is obviously strong pressure from the German audiovisual industry to bring audiovisual issues back into the digital economy portfolio of Mariya Gabriel because the chair of the Culture Committee is used to working with her,” according to the liberal Renew group.
Small arrangements between parties
However, the Social Democrats agreed to support the candidate in a spirit of appeasement, according to a European source.
In other words, they have probably agreed to support Goulard because the group needs support for its own candidate from Romania, for whom the group would be counting on Renew.
In theory, this could save the French candidate.
Following the new hearing, Macron’s pick will need a 50% majority from members of the internal market and industry committees to be confirmed.
Despite being criticised by some, these are fairly typical negotiations for the European Parliament.
“Some candidates had to face strong criticisms from MEPs during the first week of hearings. But these have since been less intense,” Terry Reintke noted, citing the example of Croatian candidate Dubravka Šuica, who will be in charge of the “Democracy and Demography” portfolio.
“Some liberal and S&D MEPs had positioned themselves in favour of women’s rights and LGBTI but did not criticise Dubravka Šuica although she remained evasive on these issues. My impression is that the three main groups did make some deals,” she added.
However, these divisions do not necessarily bode well for the future.
Between anti-Macron sentiment expressed by his political opponents and the mistrust expressed towards candidates proposed by Ursula von der Leyen, the final vote for the confirmation of the European Commission team will not mark the end of this saga.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]