BRUSSELS (AP) — Rarely, if ever, has the European Parliament shown such bite.
The next European Union executive has yet to take office, and already it’s facing challenges from defiant European lawmakers, who have snubbed two proposed candidates to the governing team and targeted two others.
The new European Commission, which proposes EU laws and ensures they are implemented throughout the bloc, will be led by Germany’s former defense minister Ursula von der Leyen and is set to take office on Nov. 1.
However, the vetting of candidates is not going as smoothly as the first female president of the commission would have wanted.
Two members of her proposed team of 27 have already been ruled out by legislators wielding their power to reject candidates. The Members of the European Parliament, or MEPs, are looking skeptically at other top officials.
“Right now, it’s the MEPs who have the power over the Commissioners,” said Scott Ainslie, a Green lawmaker from Britain.
Over the years, the EU parliament’s responsibilities have grown and perhaps now more than any other time, it’s really baring its teeth.
On the first day of the nominees’ hearings last week, lawmakers rejected the two candidates over conflict of interest concerns.
The parliament’s legal committee refused to give its approval to Rovana Plumb of Romania and Laszlo Trocsanyi of Hungary to face official hearings, before they could even present their plans for the bloc’s transport portfolio and future enlargement. Attention focused on Plumb over some loans she had taken out, while Trocsanyi was questioned about a legal firm he founded in 1991. Both have denied any wrongdoing or conflicts of interest.
With every member state entitled to a commissioner, Hungary and Romania will need to propose new names. But the new candidates will need to be vetted in a lengthy process that could delay the whole appointment procedure and slow down the functioning of EU institutions.
As well as having the power to approve nominations to the executive team, the European Parliament needs to approve the full commission before it starts working. The current commission will remain in place but will only deal with day-to-day matters until the new one takes office if its appointment is postponed.
The confirmation hearings have shone a light on deepening divisions within the legislature between the Christian Democrat European People’s Party, the center-left Socialists & Democrats and the free-market Renew Europe alliance.
The rejections of Plumb, who is an S&D social democrat, and Trocsanyi, who is affiliated to the EPP, the largest single group in the European Parliament, have fostered resentments.
May’s European elections heralded big changes in the legislature — 61% of the 751 lawmakers are new to the job. And, together, the two biggest parties — the EPP and S&D — don’t constitute a majority.
“That leaves room for us to arbitrate,” said far-right lawmaker Nicolas Bay.
Having rejected Plumb and Trocsanyi, lawmakers have also gone after Janusz Wojciechowski, the Polish agriculture commissioner-designate. He was given a hard time by lawmakers unimpressed by his vague answers and poor command of English.
Wojciechowski was then sent a set of questions he answered in writing and was summoned to a second hearing that took place on Tuesday. Speaking in Polish this time, he looked more at ease.
France’s nominee, Sylvie Goulard of Renew Europe, has also been targeted. Goulard has been nominated to look after a portfolio that oversees Europe’s internal market, industry and defense.
She is a close ally of French president Emmanuel Macron, who has portrayed himself as the champion of Europe since he came to power two years ago, pledging to reform the bloc and enhance its sovereignty.
Legislators questioned Goulard about allegations she misused funds and consulted for a U.S. think tank while she served in the EU Parliament.
“With an ongoing investigation into her financial dispositions by the EU anti-fraud office OLAF and the French judiciary, it would not be timely to give a final stamp of approval,” said EPP lawmaker Christian Ehler.
Goulard also failed to convince the Greens, the S&D and lawmakers from both the far-right and the far-left, who put on a united front. If she is eventually rejected after further scrutiny, it would be a major setback for both von der Leyen and Macron.