EU's Juncker battles to push through new team

2nd October 2014, Comments 0 comments

The EU's incoming chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker battled Thursday to win approval for his new team after a bitter struggle erupted in the European parliament over the French, British and Spanish candidates.

The fight between right-wing and left-wing parties during confirmation hearings for the new European commissioners could force Juncker to reshuffle the pack who will lead the struggling union for the next five years.

Pierre Moscovici, the socialist named in the key economic affairs role, was savaged by lawmakers despite vowing to stick to EU budgetary rules that he himself breached when he was France's finance minister.

Euro MPs took the rare step of recalling for a second interview Britain's financial services nominee Jonathan Hill, from Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party, after failing to be convinced by his testimony on Wednesday.

They also postponed a vote on whether to approve Spain's conservative energy and climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, who faces claims of a conflict of interest.

The European Parliament has the power to ask Juncker to drop members of the team or change their portfolios, and it must also give the entire commission their approval in a vote on October 22 for it to start work.

Juncker was forced to defend his commissioners Thursday, with his spokeswoman Mina Andreeva saying he was "satisfied" with the performance of nominees who had testified so far this week before parliament.

"President-elect Juncker believes all candidates so far have demonstrated their competence and European commitment," said Andreeva, "including Mr Canete".

Hill meanwhile gave a "very solid hearing", she said.

- 'Hostages being taken' -

The battle threatens to drag Brussels into a round of political bloodletting just as it is meant to be showing increasingly eurosceptic voters that it is focused on bigger issues like Europe's flagging economy.

Despite a so-called "grand coalition" formed after European elections in May, the struggle pits the conservative group of former Luxembourg premier Juncker against the socialists led by European Parliament president Martin Schulz, of Germany.

Backroom discussions were revolving around plans for the groups to trade blows by each blackballing one candidate, or, less drastically, swapping some of their roles around, particularly in the key economic portfolios, lawmakers said.

"It looks like hostages are being taken," said socialist MEP Pervenche Beres.

Juncker's centre-right European People's Party group said after socialist Moscovici's hearing that he was "hardly credible", adding that he had not even been able to convince his own government to stick to EU budgets.

Britain's Hill meanwhile had appeared to charm lawmakers during his hearing on Wednesday, insisting that he would stay neutral in his role overseeing a portfolio in which London's key financial services industry has such a huge interest.

But on Thursday the chairman of the economic committee, Roberto Gualtieri, said Hill was being recalled due to "concerns about better qualifications" and issues such as capital market unions and financial regulation.

Spain's Canete was also in trouble, with the socialist group in parliament saying they wanted "further clarification on his conflict of interest before any vote".

Canete sold his shares in two oil firms shortly after his nomination to the energy job in September.

He also apologised for alleged sexism after making macho comments towards a female rival at a debate last year.

The battle also highlights the struggle between an increasingly assertive but still relatively toothless parliament and the European Commission, which as the EU's executive bloc has real power when it comes to drafting laws and forming policy.

© 2014 AFP

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