Richard North, 11/09/2004  

In between passing stern resolutions about things they can do nothing about and sending fact finding missions to various disaster areas of the world (one assumes that the fact finders find somewhere more than comfortable to stay) MEPs try to justify their existence by pretending they have some control over the Commission.

Actually, they have no power whatsoever. But they can go through the charade of questioning putative Commissioners who will line up meekly and assure the various committees they will be facing that they will do … well, whatever it is the committees want them to do.

If it is free trade (unlikely) then free trade it is to be; if a committee wants stronger EU presence in any part of the world (another fact-finding mission, perhaps), then whoever it is will insist that yes, indeed, the EU’s presence is required to solve whatever problems the world happens to be facing wherever it is, and let us hope, maps will be provided. Faster integration? Lisbonization? As they say in New York: you want it – you got it.

Then what? Then nothing. The European Parliament cannot reject individual Commissioners even if one turns round and tells the MEPs not to be so silly, of course there is nothing we can do about whatever it is and, in any case, no government is going to go back to its electorate saying that more money is about to be handed over to the EU. The only thing MEPs can do is to reject the entire Commission. Somehow I do not think Ladbroke’s will open a book on that.

However, for those who might be interested in following these events, we are publishing a list of the hearings:

 27 September: Vladimir Spidla (appears before employment committee, 1pm-4pm); Jan Figel (culture, 4.30pm-7.30pm);

 28 September: Danuta Hübner (regional development, 9am-noon); Neelie Kroes (economic and monetary affairs, 1-4pm); Dalia Grybauskaite (budgetary control, 4.30-7.30pm);

 29 September: Stavros Dimas (environment, 9am-noon); Viviane Reding (industry, 1-4pm); Jacques Barrot (transport, 4.30-7.30pm);

 30 September: Günter Verheugen (industry, 9am-noon); Margot Wallström (constitutional affairs, 1-4pm); Laszlo Kovacs (industry, 4.30-7.30pm);

 1 October: Janez Potocnik (industry, 9am-noon);

 4 October: Peter Mandelson (international trade, 9am-noon); Olli Rehn (foreign affairs, 4.30-7.30pm);

 5 October: Benita Ferrero-Waldner (foreign affairs, 9am-noon); Rocco Buttiglione (justice and home affairs, 1-4pm); Joe Borg (fisheries, 4.30-7.30pm);

 6 October: Louis Michel (development, 9am-noon); Siim Kallas (budgetary control, 1-4.30pm); Mariann Fischer Boel (agriculture 4.30-7.30pm);

 7 October: Ingrida Udre (economic and monetary affairs, 9am-noon); Joaquín Almunia (economic and monetary affairs, 1-4.30pm); Charlie McCreevy (internal market, 4.30-7.30pm);l 8 October: Markos Kyprianou (environment, 9am-noon).

In the last week of October the entire European Parliament will vote to accept the new Commission, which will start work officially on November 1.

* * * * *

Prior to the hearings, each Commissioner designate is requested to respond to a written questionnaire. The purpose of this exercise is to allow Parliament to examine the designate's personal qualifications and assess his/her broad policy approach and, as such, provide a basis for the oral phase of the hearings. The questionnaires are composed of two parts: the "general" part consists of horizontal questions which are of relevance for all Commissioner designates; the "specific" part focuses on the particular portfolio of each Commissioner designate.

The questionnaires are available on the Europarl site and the replies are expected to be available 15 September 2004.

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