In the light of the on-going Parliamentary hearings of the Commissioners-designate, we have chosen “hearing” as the IATE term of the week.
With the Treaty of Maastricht entering into force in 1993, the cooperation between the EU’s institutions deepened. Notably, the European Parliament gained a significant role in the process of appointing the Commissioners as future commissioners, proposed by the Member States’ governments and nominated by the Council with the agreement of the President-elect of the Commission, need the consent of the Parliament to be able to start working.
The procedure is quite exhaustive. Each commissioner-designate has his/her own hearing where he/she is evaluated by the appropriate committees based on his/her portfolio. Before the hearing, commissioners-designate receive 2 common and 3 policy-specific written questions. The first two are meant to evaluate the general competence, European commitment and personal independence as well as the management of the portfolio and cooperation with the Parliament, whereas the policy-specific questions are centred on the main priorities and legislative initiatives. Each hearing usually lasts 3 hours during which commissioners-designate make a short (no more than 15 minutes) opening speech and later on reply to the given questions grouped by topic. After the hearing, the responsible committee evaluates in camera the Commissioner-designate in question and the conclusions are made public after 24 hours of each hearing.
During the past hearings, the lack of specialist knowledge concerning a portfolio assigned, vague answers and reluctance to make commitments stood out as the main underlying issues when examining some of the commissioners-designate. Even though the Parliament cannot reject separate candidates, as it can only vote on the Commission as a whole, if some commissioners-designate do not meet the requirements, the approval process is delayed until other appropriate candidates are found. For instance, in 2004 Italian nominee Rocco Buttiglione received strong criticism for his comments on the role of women and gays. Consequently, President-elect José Manuel Barroso, due to the possibility of the Parliament voting against his newly formed Commission, had to ask the Parliament to postpone the vote to find another nominee.
We can see that the hearings are not just another bureaucratic procedure – they do influence political decisions and the Parliament, indeed, has the a final say in what concerns the approval of the Commission. This procedure does not only make the Commission more accountable to the Parliament, but also increases the political dynamics and strengthens the cooperation between the EU institutions in general.
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By Julija Televičiūtė
Graduate from Vilnius University, English Philology (BA)
Translation trainee at Lithuanian Unit