from the Leyens day of truth


DMEPs screened three European Union candidates in three separate hearings this Thursday, which were re-nominated by their states because the first candidates failed.

Thomas Gutschker

Political correspondent for the European Union, NATO and the Benelux countries based in Brussels.

Which candidates are you?

In the morning the Hungarian Oliver Varhelyi is tuned, from 13 o'clock the Romanian Adina Valean and the Frenchman Thierry Breton have to face the questions of the deputies. This individual exam has to be passed by every applicant. Only then does Parliament vote on the entire commission. This vote is currently scheduled for 27 November, then the Parliament will meet in Strasbourg. 23 commissioners have already passed the individual exam, three not.

How did the three candidates fail?

Two candidates did not even face the first hurdle: The Romanian Rovana Plumb and the Hungarian Laszlo Trocsanyi were rejected by the Legal Affairs Committee of the Parliament because of conflicts of interest. The Frenchwoman Sylvie Goulard came on, but then failed after two hearings in the technical committee. She had resigned in 2017 because of a false employment scandal from her time as an MEP as Defense Minister. MEPs asked: Why should she then become a Commissioner? Goulard found no satisfactory answer. In the end, almost the entire committee voted against them.

Can it be scarce again this time?

Clear answer: yes. And that has something to do with the French candidate again. Thierry Breton previously headed the IT group Atos, which got a lot of money from the European Commission. While he has promised to sell all of the shares in the company, Social Democrat and Greens MPs have a continuing conflict of interest: will Breton be independent as EU Commissioner – or would he possibly shake orders with former business partners? Breton wants to stay out of decisions that could bring him to conscience. On Tuesday, eleven MPs wanted to hear more from him, twelve refused: Liberals, Christian Democrats and Conservatives. So Breton took just barely the first hurdle.

Why does Breton have to worry anyway?

Since 2009, Thierry Breton was CEO of the IT service provider Atos.

On this Thursday he needs a two-thirds majority of the coordinators of all factions. Each coordinator weighs the votes of his deputies in the committee. If Breton fails to convince Green and Social Democrats, they will have the necessary blocking minority. Then Breton would have to answer written questions and probably audition a second time. That would be enough for the simple majority. Only: In the meantime, the clock keeps running. For Von der Leyen, it could then be scarce with a vote at the end of the month.

What about the other two candidates?

The Hungarian Varhelyi and the Romanian Valean have no conflicts of interest – the Legal Committee waved them unanimously. Both are well known in Brussels. The Hungarian is a diplomat and so far represents his country as an EU ambassador. The Romanian has been sitting in the European Parliament since 2007; Currently she heads the Committee on Industry and Research. Both will probably only get in trouble if they afford serious missteps.

With Varhelyi, particular attention is paid to the question of whether, as Commissioner, he can exercise his office independently and neutrally and not as a Trojan horse by Viktor Orban. MEPs on the left of parliament would rather see it if it had a different remit than just neighborhood policy. In particular, this Commissioner must assess the rule of law of the candidate countries – and Hungary itself is not a role model. Prime Minister Orban, of course, has insisted on this department opposite Leyen. And Hungary can indeed claim to be particularly concerned about the enlargement of the EU to include the Western Balkan countries.

What happens if a Frenchman fails again?

For Emmanuel Macron that would be a serious defeat. He had blamed Sylvie Goulard's nomination on the Leyen – she had selected the candidate from three of his proposals. On the other hand, the manager Breton, who used to be economics and finance minister, is undoubtedly Macron's man. That is exactly what could make Breton dangerous again, because in the European Parliament many Members are still mad at the French President.

He had torpedoed the top candidate system after the European election and helped by the Leyen into office. The tough dealings with the Deputies Goulard was also a settlement with Macron. If that repeats, a kind of open war would break out between Strasbourg and Paris.

And what about the British?

That's right, they're still here – and have now announced that they will not nominate a Commissioner before the general election on December 12th. This was announced by a spokesman for the EU Commission in Brussels on Thursday morning. Each country is required to nominate a candidate. Ursula von der Leyen had twice reminded Prime Minister Boris Johnson by letter. The first deadline had been passed by the campaigning Johnson without answer; the second would have expired this Friday.

Should London remain in this position even if the other three Commissioners are confirmed, the current EU Commission is likely to initiate infringement proceedings against the British Government. She could show that she has done everything possible to comply with European law. That would clear the way for the Leyen, with all the other stones set aside. A judgment of the European Court of Justice would follow in two years at the earliest. Until then, it should be finally clear where the British are heading – in any case, one hopes in Brussels.

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