The Commissioners’ candidate hearings have been something of a disappointment, with some notable exceptions called Almunia, Barnier, Hedegaard, or Oettinger. The Bulgarian candidate Ms Jeleva was sacked and Ms Kroes, Mr Rehn, Mr Semeta, and Baroness Ashton had lucky escapes after disappointing MEPs in their respective committees.
In theory, Commissioners should be chosen for their suitability for the portfolio, their knowledge of the portfolio, and their European commitment, which includes their independence from national influence.
It is clear that this is not quite the case in Brussels yet, but what was striking during the hearings was the vagueness of the candidates’ responses, leading to perceptions of being unprepared. Candidates were generally weak in presenting priorities for their five years in office and avoided demonstrating any audacious vision or “big picture” in their policy area.
What emerged later is that candidates actually followed Mr Barroso’s instructions for the hearings to the letter. Low-profile, low-exposure, and evasive answers was the brief given by Mr Barroso, who wanted to prevent any clear answers from causing a revolt in the European Parliament, as happened back in 2004 with Mr Buttiglione.
Aside from the fact that Ms Jeleva was rejected anyway, the initial impression is that the incoming college of Commissioners is perceived as weak and unprepared. The final verdict on the new Commissioners is pending, and we will have to wait for a few months before they show their true colours…Barroso permitting.