The hearings are over, we (almost) have a new European Commission. The Slovenian problem will surely be solved more quickly than most people expect (OK, I wrote the post before the nomination of Violeta Bulc..). In case you missed #ephearings20014 check our project blog here.
Anyway, after having followed far too many of those hearings, I started wondering what we should change next time. [The biggest flaw is obviously the rule ‘each member state sends one candidate’ – and the subsequent problem to find 27 “very important” portfolios.]
I. It is the European Parliament: It is politics, stupid!
It is a parliament, there are parties, there are ‘Members of Parliament’. Are people really surprised that we are dealing with power games and political games? But this seems to be the problem in Brussels: Commissioners tend to think they are well paid administrators (instead of politicians)- and observers think Parliamentary groups or Parliamentarians don’t do politics. However, as soon as it gets a bit messy (basically there are no clear majorities in the EP) we seem to struggle to make sense out of it because we tend to compare the whole event with what we know from national politics.
II. This time it was different – or was it?
There might have been slightly more interest in covering the hearings this time, but let’s be honest, we have seen it all before. A candidate got rejected, another one got a second hearing, additional written questions etc. It’s business as usual. The European Parliament has had a de-facto veto on individual Commissioner nominees for quite a while. It basically has become a normal part of the hearings. (Anyone remember Jeleva or Buttiglione?)
III. MEPs – please improve your questioning skills!
Let’s face it. Some questions posed by MEPs were appalling. And I am not talking about the questions about the Queen or Hitler. (those questions are a good reminder of what sort of people we have elected to the EP – but that’s another story) It is about asking questions that produce relevant and revealing answers. Here are a few simple rules:
- Don’t ask 3 questions if you know that the Candidate is only allowed to speak for 2 minutes;
- Ask follow-up questions instead of simply repeating questions;
- Try and coordinate your questions better – among the MEPs in your political group but also within the Committee (I know this is already happening – but somehow it doesn’t seem to work).
- MEPs, don’t reiterate your political convictions or use your question as an opportunity to give a speech. You are wasting everyone’s time!
Dear MEPs, here is an idea: If you ask 1 question you might get 1 answer.If you ask 2 questions you may get 1 short answer. #EPhearings2014
— kosmopolit (@kosmopolit) October 7, 2014
IV. We need consistency – for all hearings and committees.
This may contradict an earlier point but seen from the outside the hearings lacked a certain degree of consistency. What do I mean by that? Different committees seem to evaluate candidates using different criteria. I know there are procedures and criteria that are supposed to prevent this from happening but we should have a debate over the next years about the purpose of these hearings, especially when it comes to how to evaluate portfolio knowledge of the candidates.
V. The format is seriously flawed.
3h? Give us a break! There is research that suggests that the human brain can’t concentrate for longer than an hour or so (google the details…) The point is, these hearings are too long – at least a toilet break for the Commissioner nominees and MEPs should be introduced. I am also not sure whether we really need a 3 hour hearing – 2 hours will do just fine (if MEPs work on the questioning skills).
We also should think about changing the format and make it more ‘conversational’ – let’s allow direct follow-up questions to clarify issues. Another idea is to actually organise the hearing as a series of thematic blocks in order to cover certain topics more comprehensively.
VII. “Wrong” candidate? Thank you, member states!
Yes, the hearings are a ‘sort of job interview’ but there is also an element of accountability involved. It’s about two things: making sure that member states send useful and appropriate candidates to Brussels and to approve the portfolio assignments of the EC president. This time it was actually much easier to spot second-rate politicians as we had a couple of outstanding performers. A rejection of a candidate – or a ‘second hearing’ is always a reminder that some member states simply don’t seem to nominate their most capable politicians. This issue is also linked to the role of he Commission President who has only limited clout over the nomination process. A strange/unsuitable candidate is the responsibility of the respective member state – and the hearings are a useful reminder that we get the Commissioners the member states want us to get…