I have just finished listening to Baroness Ashton at her Commissioner Hearing before the Foreign Affairs, Development, Budgetary Control, Trade and Constitutional Affairs Committees. I have to say she did extremely well. Cathy dealt ably with questions on everything from what to do with Iran to relations with the United States, and how she will set up and organise the new EU diplomatic service.
The only disappointment to me was the juvenile questions put by Conservative MEP Charles Tannock, whose views on Cathy I have already blogged about. In such an important forum, I would have hoped that the Tories could put to one side their petty campaign against Cathy, a campaign waged simply because she is from the Labour Party. While other MEPs asked questions of real foreign policy substance, Charles Tannock was able only to sling mud by asking about Cathy’s membership CND nearly 30 years ago.
I have previously blogged on the Parliament’s approval of the President of the Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, for a second term. The 26 Commissioners-Designate (one from each Member State, with the exception of Portugal, President Barroso’s home country), each of whom will be in charge of a particular portfolio in the Commission, are now subject to approval of the Parliament.
The Hearings, due to take place this week and next, are by no means a mere formality. As briefly mentioned in my previous post, during the course of the 2004 Hearings the Civil Liberties Committee brought about the resignation of Rocco Buttiglione, the original choice as Italian Commissioner, after in-depth questioning about his views on homosexuality. The Parliament’s role this time round has even more significance given the enhanced powers of the Parliament under the Lisbon Treaty.
These Hearings are a real opportunity for the Parliament to exercise scrutiny over the Commissioners-Designate, and in my opinion should not be used for mere political point scoring. Over the next few days, I will be attending and putting questions at several of the Hearings relevant to the Culture Committee. I will also be regularly tweeting and blogging on the progress of the Hearings. Each Commissioner will have an important and influential position and while Parliament takes its scrutinising role seriously, it is also important that we as MEPs communicate the progress of these hearings to keep you informed on the democratic appointment process taking place within the EU.
So please keep checking my blog and tweets. You never know, this year’s Hearings may provide more high level political drama! It’s happened before and could happen again.