The three new Commissioners designate Franco Frattini, Andris Piebalgs and László Kovács have all been greeted with favourable remarks by the majority of the European Parliament committee members, who are expected to deliver the new Barroso commission a thumbs up, tomorrow during a Strasbourg plenary session.
The new interviews had to be held following Commission President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso’s decision to withdraw his original line-up, in a face-saver that would have seen the majority of the European Parliament voting against his team.
Comments by former commissioner designate Rocco Buttiglione, Italy’s conservative Catholic MP nominated for the Freedom, Security and Justice portfolio, on homosexuality and the role of women caused outrage in the EP, sparking a parliament-wide opposition that stood to defeat the entire Commission before the vote was postponed.
His successor, Franco Frattini, fared well despite still attracting considerable opposition from the Greens-EFA group, currently the fourth-largest group in the EP.
Despite support from most of the EP groups, including the PES, which led the protest against Rocco Buttiglione, the Greens said they would vote against the proposed new line-up. Spokesman Helmut Weixler directed the Greens' attacks against the Italian Prime Minister, saying that any member of Silvio Berlusconi's Italian government would be rejected. Overall, the group was critical about Barroso's "minimal solution" to the problem posed by the contested college of Commisioners. Barroso has "clearly folded under pressure from national governments", said the Greens.
Frattini told the committee on civil liberties, justice and home affairs that he supported Barroso’s idea for the creation of a group of Commissioners responsible for fundamental rights and about the future legislative proposals in the field of anti-discrimination. He pledged that he would establish a clear legal framework on asylum, encourage integration policies in the Member States, and implement the Action Plan on combating terrorism.
His governmental experience however was put seriously in question. The representatives of the PES, ALDE, Greens and the GUE-NGL had a negative opinion on his refusal to provide a clear evaluation of his government experience – Frattini steered clear of danger during his confirmation hearing by warding off Green and Socialist accusations that he helped design a controversial bill aimed at preventing Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi from having to sell off his media empire.
"I am here as a candidate to represent Europe and not to discuss old events and national governments," he said.
The EPP-ED Group - of which Frattini's Forza Italia party is a member - hailed his performance as "brilliant". In a statement, it said Frattini "gave clear proof of his independence from any Government" and showed his "strong commitment to co-operate with the European Parliament on key issues, such as fight against terrorism, illegal immigration and trafficking of human beings".
Latvia's new Commissioner designate for Energy, Andris Piebalgs, was also considered to have given a satisfactory performance. Both the Socialists and the EPP-ED described him as a "competent" candidate. He managed to show his "understanding for the need of balancing energy policy with environmental policy as well as for the need for renewable energies and nuclear safety throughout the Union," said EPP-ED Vice-President Timothy Kirkhope.
All major political groups suggested they could accept Barroso's new line-up but have been critical about the limited scope of the reshuffle.
EPP-ED chief Hans-Gert Poettering said the group regretted that the Hungarian government had not withdrawn its candidate, László Kovács "after the negative impression he had made at his first hearing" in Parliament.
Deemed incompetent, he failed to get into the good books of groups of MEPs during his first hearing in the area of energy. Hungary did not accept to change its nominee and instead Barroso awarded Kovács the Taxation and Customs Policy portfolio.
During his confirmation grilling, Kovács repudiated allegations made concerning his earlier political career and vowed his commitment to European values. According to the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, MEPs found him open to dialogue and exchange of ideas and determined to use his public office as Commissioner in the European interest.
Kovács took a clear stand against full harmonisation of corporate tax and expressed his conviction that this was only one of a number of factors that determine the location of business investment.
Tomorrow the European Parliament will be formally voting on the new European Commission.