IT has been a relatively quiet fortnight in Brussels, as the new Commission still has not taken office and all policy initiatives are temporarily on hold.
The new College, under the stewardship of German politician Ursula von der Leyen, was supposed to get down to business on November 1st – the day after Brexit (October 31st). But politics, like everything else, does not already go to plan and the new team is now expected to begin their five-year mandate on December 1st.
As for the UK, president-elect von der Leyen wrote to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on November 6, to remind him that Britain still has to nominate a member for the Commission. The government has told journalists it is ready to honour its legal commitment, but no public thought has been given to who the Commissioner-designate, in the job until at least the end of January, might be.
The main reason for the delay is that three Commissioners-designate have not completed their confirmation hearings before the relevant Committees in the European Parliament. Readers may recall that Ireland’s Phil Hogan, set to take over the trade portfolio, sailed through his three-hour grilling at the end of September, while Poland’s nominee Janusz Wojciechowski, who has been given the Agriculture & Rural Development portfolio, had to go before the AGRI Committee twice, as his first attempt in early October was far from satisfactory.
Following MEPs’ refusal to accept former French Minister of the Armed Forces Sylvie Goulard (May 2017 to June 2017) due to her links to corruption, mishandling of party funds, etc, former Finance Minister Thierry Breton is Paris’s second choice. MEPs also rejected Hungary’s first choice, László Trócsányi, who is a lawyer, academic, diplomat and politician, due to conflicts of interest when he worked as a lawyer. The former Justice Minister was also seen as Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s right-hand man. Hungary’s Permanent Representative to the EU, Olivér Várhelyi, has been put forward as the country’s second choice.
Romanian MEP Adina-Ioana VÄlean has been nominated by Bucharest as the country’s Commissioner-designate, slated for the Transport portfolio. The 51-year-old woman is a member of the National Liberal Party (PNL) party and became an MEP when Romania acceded to the EU on January 1st, 2007. She served as EP vice-president from 2007 to 2014 and was chair of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety from 2017 to 2019.
MEPs previously rejected Social Democrat politician Rovana Plumb, former Minister for Environment and Forests, as she was linked to a corruption scandal back home.
In terms of the next steps, Adina-Ioana VÄlean will face a hearing before the EP’s Transport and Tourism Committee on November 14. On the same day, Olivér Várhelyi for Neighbourhood and Enlargement and Thierry Breton for the highly-coveted Internal Market will also face their respective auditions before the relevant Committees.
The House is expected to vote on the full College at the plenary session in Strasbourg on November 27th.
Farm lobby issues
CAP funding plea
Presidents of farmers’ organisations Copa and Cogeca have called on European Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen to implement ‘adequately-funded EU policies and public support’ as ‘strong agriculture would be a pre-condition to a strong Europe.’
In a single-page letter (dated November 8th), Joachim Rukwied (Copa) and Thomas Magnusson (Cogeca) underline that the EU model of production is ‘stuck between an uncertain and volatile international trade environment and incoherent EU policies.’ The lobbyists say that farmers are ‘facing an increasingly difficult situation … where the blame is unfairly pinned on them,’ referring to protests in the Netherlands, France, Germany and Poland.
In addition to what they refer to as ‘agri-bashing,’ the two farm leaders say that producers are ‘paying the high price for other international policy developments, such as the Russian embargo, Brexit and WTO panel disputes.’ They underline that agriculture and forestry ‘can provide long-term solutions, in particular through common EU policies, such as the Green Deal Initiative (due to be unveiled in the first 100 days of the new Commission),’ while farmers ‘will enable the EU to manage the transition to the circular and bio-based economy.’
• Rose O’Donovan is editor-in-chief of the Brussels-based agricultural publication AGRA FACTS