Neelie Kroes hearing less than adequate

Labour Party

Commissioner-Designate Neelie Kroes is facing difficulties following her Hearing last Thursday.  Competition Commissioner throughout the last European Parliament mandate, Ms Kroes, a member of the Liberal Group from Holland, has been given the digital agenda portfolio by Commission President, Jose Manuel Barosso. 

Ms Kroes had a reputation as a strong Commissioner when she held the Competition brief.  I therefore expected her to breeze through her Hearing this time.  She is, after all, the woman who stood up to new technology giant Microsoft.  For many years, Microsoft tied its ‘Internet Explorer’ web browser to its ‘Windows’ computer operating system. Concerned that – given Microsoft’s dominance of the PC operating system market – this deprived consumers of choice and resulted in fewer innovative products, Ms Kroes set about opening up the market.

 The initiative proved successful and in October 2009, Microsoft offered commitments to remove this barrier to competition.  No mean achievement for the EU in general and Ms Kroes in particular.

 After such a feat you would have thought a Hearing before MEPs, albeit on a different portfolio, would have presented no problems at all.  But this was not the case.

 I went to the part of the Hearing which concerned the Culture and Education Committee dealing with cultural diversity and media pluralism.  I did, in fact, ask Ms Kroes how she would go about securing futher pluralism in the media and lessening the concentration of media outlets in the hands of certain individuals and corporations.  I have to say, she didn’t seem to understand the question and gave a less than adequate reply.

 Mine was not the only question mishandled.  Ms Kroes, in addition, did not appear interested in the UNESCO Convention on the protection and promotion of cultural diversity, which the EU is signed up to. 

 We have not, so far, rejected Ms Kroes, but she is to be re-interviewed tomorrow.  I will be bringing you an update as soon as I possibly can.

Crunch Day for Europe President

Labour Party

This is it.  All will be decided later today or perhaps tomorrow if the deliberations in the European Council of Ministers about the position of President of the Council and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs continue late into the next day.  We are already hearing stories about participants taking one, two or even three shirts to see them through.  (They are almost all men – hence the shirt question).

Well, will our very own TB make it?  Tony’s chances do seem to have revived during the past two days, but whether he can overcome the “small country” challenge is still not certain.  Some of the tiniest EU states don’t want a large country holding the post as they fear this will smother them.  So we are now seeing an attempt at a classic EU fudge – find the lowest common denominator and go with that regardless of whether or not that is the best and most effective decision for Europe as a whole.

This mindset has led to Belgian Prime Minister Herman van Rompuy emerging as the front-runner.  I hardly think Belgium is a shining example of how to run a country.  A population of about 10 million is split into two linguistic groups with three federal regions, a system which is so unworkable that Belgium was recently without a federal government for nearly two years as the various parties were unable to agree on a coalition.

The other two small countries who are realistic contenders aren’t much better.  Peter Balkenende from Holland verges on the Thatcherite.  Luxembourg has, as ever, staked its claim.  Yet can anyone take Jean-Claude Junker seriously when the entire population of Luxembourg is only 488,000.  Yes 488,000 compared to over 60 million in the UK and Germany’s 82.5 million.  I am tempted to use that dreadful Americanism – “give us a break!”

There are two other factors working against our Tony.  Most importantly, the Socialists do not have a majority in the European Council.  The system of qualified majority voting used gives that to the EPP.  Moreover, the Socialist governments do not always all vote the same way.  Just to muddy the waters further, the Socialist and Democrat Group in the European Parliament has waged a strong campaign, which some Socialist governments have bought in to, that the Socialists should let the EPP have the President while the Socialists make a concerted bid for the High Representative.

The small country and/or EPP bid for the President position may well be the way it goes today.  I understand that there is everything to play for, and unusually in the EU the result has not been fixed in advance.  Since the Socialists are going for the High Representative, could this be what Tony ends up with?  I gather he may not be averse to the idea.  The job will, after all, be to act as the face of the EU across the whole globe and the post holder will also control the world-wide network of EU missions (embassies).

Crunch time indeed.