Honeyball’s Weekly Round-up

Labour Party

The Commissioner hearings began in earnest last week. It was a new format and each Commissioner designate was grilled by MEPs about their intentions for their respective portfolios before being ratified. It is the first time such hearings have taken place in this way and MEPs really did have the opportunity to tackle the Commissioner designates’ about their plans, test their depth of knowledge and commitment to the role.

I blogged about two of the hearings, that of Vera Jourovà who will have responsibility for justice, consumers and gender equality and Kristalina Georgieva, Vice-President for Budget and Human Resources,  both of which I saw last week. You can read my reviews here and here.

In total five of the Commissioner designates, have been told to provide further written evidence before any decision is made about their confirmation. Vera Jourovà from the Czech Republic, Tibor Navracsics from Hungary, Miguel Arias Cañete from Spain and Pierre Moscovici from France, were given until Sunday night to respond to new written questions.

In addition, the UK’s Jonathan Hill will appear tomorrow 7 October at 1pm for a second hearing. European Voice has excellent coverage of the hearings which you can read here.

Last week the Conservatives set out new rules which threatened to take the UK out of the European Human Rights Convention. The plans, outlined in an eight page dossier are largely ‘fanciful’, as the Guardian put it, because the UK can’t be granted special treatment.

Essentially people in Britain would lose the right to take the British government to the human rights court in Strasbourg. Rather than enforcing any adverse rulings from the Court, the Tories want them to be merely advisory and they would only become binding if Parliament agreed it on a case-by-case basis.

Joshua Rozenberg grasped the significance this would have and wrote in the Guardian last week: “Nobody at the human rights court or the Council of Europe can grant the ‘recognition’ that the Conservatives seek.”

He added: “they [the Conservative plans] would take the UK back half a century to the days before the convention became enforceable by individuals.”

You can read Rozenberg’s article in full here.

Review of Commissioner designate Věra Jourová’s hearing

Labour Party

In her opening statement at the Commission hearings yesterday afternoon (01 October), Věra Jourová, Commissioner designate for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, spoke passionately about her enthusiasm and the sense of responsibility she has for the role.

She said her commitment was to deliver on the European values and fundamental rights described by Vaclav Havel and quoted his address to the European Parliament in 2000, in Strasbourg.

Her mandate will be characterised by focussing her efforts on three areas: the need for citizens to have choice, the protection of citizens’ rights and the need to build trust across the judicial systems within the EU.

On women she asserted that vulnerable women who suffer violence “need our voice”, adding: “Whether its women who suffer domestic violence or the inhumane practice of female genital mutilation. These are incompatible with everything the European Union stands for.”

Later on during questions Jourová, she said she would ensure all member states ratify the Istanbul Convention (about preventing violence against women which will be signed in 2015). Until now only eight member states have signed it.

The Commissioner designate, if ratified, will have responsibility for a new portfolio and she said she hoped that she would be able to build bridges between national legal systems and build a fairer single market. She said: “It will help to build economic growth because a sound and predictable justice system is a prerequisite for economic growth and a business friendly environment in which cross-border trade can flourish.”

Jourová also promised to tackle the ‘glass ceiling and assured us that she will defend the Women on Boards proposal.

Jourová, spoke passionately about being the victim of injustice and the lengths she went to clear her name. “It was this”, she said, “That pushed me to study law”.

During questions she was asked if she will support the European Parliament’s roadmap against discrimination of LGBTI in Europe. She responded: “We are dependent on the member states that need to fight against this, but I will use awareness campaigns.”

Following this she was asked if action against specific member states will be taken but Jourová’s response was vague and she said it is something to discuss with individual countries to see if such barriers exist.

Her answers on gender equality were a bit more promising, albeit rather general and she said women must have equal access to services that men have at their disposal.

She was also asked about female representation in the European Commission and if she is willing to start a campaign for more female commissioners. She said she would “be presenting proposals to increase gender equality in the Commission.”

In her closing comments she admitted she was a little general with her responses. It is true that her answers lacked detailed. However, her portfolio is new, extremely complex and covers a very large area; in addition she was questioned for three hours.

Although a member of the ALDE group (Liberal group) I found her remarks on women, in particular, very encouraging.

Lord Hill’s hearing was also yesterday running at the same time as Věra Jourová, so I was unable to see it but you can read more on that here.

Bulgarian Commissioner-Designate Jeleva not right for the Job

Labour Party

The European Parliament may be about to ask Barroso to reconsider one of the Commissioners-Designate.  The Designate in question is the Bulgarian nominee, an EPP candidate from Bulgaria called Rumiana Jeleva.  Her portfolio was to be International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response.  Mrs. Jeleva went in front of the Development Committee yesterday and was asked a series of very difficult questions about her declaration of interests.  The accusation levelled at her was that in her previous work as a Member of the European Parliament she had failed to declare that she was registered as the manager of a trading company called Global Consult.  Mrs. Jeleva flatly denied these claims, stating “…I have declared everything… any accusations towards me… are unfounded.”  Although the accusations weren’t unfounded, they were perhaps not quite as bad as they first appeared.  It transpired that, though it was true that she was registered as manager for Global Consult, the company was entirely inactive during her time as an MEP. 

But it turned out that this was anyway rather a moot point because once the discussion of Mrs. Jeleva’s financial interests was put to rest, she then failed to give satisfactory answers when questioned about her new portfolio.  With a remit like International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, you expect a detailed understanding of the situation in places like the Congo and Afghanistan, but all Ms. Jeleva could do when questioned on these areas was give vague answers, using phrases like “work with the local players” and “call for people to do better”.  The portfolio she has been given has such obvious potential for good, you really want someone you can trust will be able deploy the resources of the European Union in the most effective and beneficial way.  Unfortunately Romania Jeleva did not instil that trust in me, or many of my colleagues.

The European Parliament has an oversight role for just this reason.  We want to make sure that all Commissioners do their job well.  Now the question becomes; what do we do about Rumiana Jeleva?  The Parliament doesn’t have the right to reject one Designate, we would have to reject Barroso’s entire Commission.  Barroso could give Mrs. Jeleva another portfolio, but perhaps she should consider stepping aside and allowing Bulgaria to nominate another Commissioner.