On Thursday 14 November, the final three Commissioner hearings were held in Brussels for the French, Romanian and Hungarian candidates. Thierry Breton (France) and Adina Vălean (Romania) were approved by the relevant European Parliamentary Committees, while Olivér Várhelyi (Hungary) was blocked pending further scrutiny.
French Commissioner-Designate Thierry Breton has gained approval from MEPs for the sizable ‘Internal Market’ portfolio. “Investing today for growth tomorrow” was key to Breton’s powerful opening speech which insisted on a vision of protection and transformation for the European digital market to succeed. Testing questions from MEPs assessed Breton’s competence around the social issues, the green agenda and contemporary geopolitical change. The French nominee’s answers proved substantial. Breton’s aspirations regarding competition policy and the digital sphere further demonstrated his suitability for the position. Much scrutiny of Breton’s extensive private sector affiliation preceded the hearing, however, his “radical” decision to resign from positions and sell all of his shares (mostly from Atos) helped to convince MEPs across the political spectrum of his commitment to the EU’s success.
Romanian Commissioner-Designate Adina Vălean won the Parliament’s endorsement for the Transport portfolio. The far-right Identity and Democracy was the only group to oppose Vălean’s confirmation, while the Greens said they wanted her to provide additional information. Vălean’s performance was by no means faultless with certain answers lacking complexity. As she admitted, “I’m getting acquainted on all these issues on which you’re very knowledgeable … just for the last two days.” She answered questions on a range of topics including plans to decarbonize the maritime sector, a future aviation tax and the extent to which she would support the bloc’s railways as a clean mode of transport. Her performance gained sufficient approval from Transport and Tourism Committee MEPs to approve her nomination.
Hungarian Commissioner-Designate Olivér Várhelyi failed to gain approval from MEPs today for the portfolio of ‘Neighbourhood and Enlargement’. While a number of political families backed the candidate, the Greens, S&D, Renew Europe and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left asked the Hungarian candidate to answer additional questions in writing. Varhelyi’s ambitious objective to “bridge the gap” between the EU, the Western Balkans, and its neighbours in the East and South impressed MEPs. A long-time diplomat, Várhelyi showed strong policy knowledge. However, it was the question of his independence from national influence, namely his close relationship with Viktor Orbán, which led MEPs not to back his candidacy in yesterday’s hearings. To gain approval from the Parliament, Várhelyi will need to further convince them of his impartial commitment to the EU.
The approval of Thierry Breton and Adina Vălean by relevant committees means that they will take up their respective roles in Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission subject to final approval by the European Parliament plenary scheduled to be held on 27 November. Additional written questions from the Parliament have been drafted and must be answered by the Hungarian Commission candidate Olivér Várhelyi by Monday 18 November if the appointment process is to proceed. It is still unclear whether the new Commission President will officially commence her duties on 1 December, but the approval of the French and Romanian nominees means that her chances have significantly improved.
Compliments of Vulcan Consulting, a Member of the EACCNY