Commissioner hearings: Breton, Várhelyi & Vălean
17h20 – Our AFET team’s concerns over Olivér Várhelyi:
Speaking after assessing the Hungarian nominee’s candidacy, Spanish MEP Idoia Villanueva said:
“Today the Left raised our serious concerns about the Hungarian Commissioner-designate for enlargement and neighbourhood policy.
“Democracy, rule of law, and human rights are essential elements of the enlargement and eastern neighbourhood processes.
“Over recent years, we have followed developments in Hungary with deep concern, in particular regarding ruling party dominance of institutions, systemic corruption and violations of media freedom. Várhelyi, as a Hungarian diplomat, defended and supported these policies. How can he now be tasked with ensuring that rule of law, democracy and human rights are respected in the EU’s enlargement and neighbourhood countries in the coming years?”
16h00 – PRESS RELEASE: Left MEPs reject Breton for Commission role
Commissioner-designate Thierry Breton is not fit for office, Left MEPs conclude after a disappointing hearing today.
The former CEO of Atos, and France’s second nominee after Parliament rejected Sylvie Goulard, will be in charge of a portfolio that largely overlaps with the areas of operation of his previous job.
Breton failed to assuage MEP fears about conflicts of interest.
The Commission’s Code of Conduct requires a two-year “cooling off” period when Commissioners leave their post yet no such requirement is being asked of Breton in reverse, fuelling accusations of revolving doors.
MEP Manuel Bompard (France Insoumise, France) spelled out what a Breton Commission would mean if the rules were followed:
“Atos received EU money and is a dominant player in the digital market, so Breton should recuse himself entirely from decisions related to digital issues.
“Atos has helped set up a highly questionable tobacco traceability system for the benefit of tobacco companies, so Breton should recuse himself from the revision of the tobacco directive.
“Atos manages access to the data of the EU’s Copernicus programme, so Breton should recuse himself from decisions related to the space programme.
“In sum, his conflicts of interest would prevent him from delivering on his own portfolio. Unless he wants a fictitious job as France’s Commissioner, he should not become one.”
MEP Kateřina Konečná (KSČM, Czech Republic) echoed these concerns:
“The biggest problem with Mr. Breton is his obvious conflicts of interest.
“Someone who has worked for a company that is a direct beneficiary of numerous EU programmes should not be responsible for decisions about the allocation of these resources. Especially not in the field of EU defence and security,” she concluded.
Having sat through the Breton hearing, a timely reminder from Manon Aubry that an independent ethics body to vet European officials is long overdue:
Over at the Vălean hearing, some important issues have been raised by Irish MEP Clare Daly, who tackled the Romanian nominee on a wide range of subjects:
“You’ve talked a lot about sustainability and climate neutrality. But your answers on aviation industry is actually taking us in a different direction. You seem to be hiding behind the Single European Sky agreement as a panacea to emissions, – even saying we need more capaicty!
“You say you accept the emissions targets, but you’ve effectively ruled out taxation as a method for achieving this. Are you not aware that the Commission did look into it which said an aviation tax would cut emissions.
“You say you won’t exclude avaiation taxation but that’s very different from utilising the benefits of taxation in changing policies in this area.
“We have the scientific evidence to support that.
“So why would we support a Commission who lags behind?
“You said you promote rail when you are subsidising aviation? How can they compete – no ticket tax, no fuel tax? Why don’t we outlaw aviation like flying between Brussels and Amsterdam, for example? People should be using rail!”
Daly also addressed the importance of workers’ right – not just for the conditions and wages but also, critically, passenger safety:
“I would like you to tell us about workers’ rights, about the race to the bottom because you hide behind it by talking about changes in innovation. Are you now aware that many airlines are using vague contracts to drive down wages and conditions?
“If you’re dealing with staff who are tired or worn out, passenmgers safety is impacted, and this is a ploy by low-cost carriers at the expense of their workforce,” she concluded.
Czech MEP Kateřina Konečná has numerous concerns over Breton’s past, and again, his old company Atos is providing plenty of material for scrutiny.
14h25 – Greek MEP Elena Kountoura vs Adina-Ioana Vălean
Two questions from Kountoura, the first:
“The mandate you have received from the President of the Committee is really very ambitious and is focused on the transformation of the transportation infrastructure in the frame of the European Green Deal with the aim of Zero Pollution.
“You told us that you also share the same vision and you stated to us your priorities. We would like to know how you are going to materialise them?
“I would like to point out one very important dimension of the transport system transformation that very often is being neglected. How are we going to ensure that the most vulnerable social groups are not going to be excluded, especially in the remote island regions?”
“We know that in the beginning, this transformation will have an enormous cost and it is not still clear how this cost is going to be distributed.
“Those who are financially powerful will be able to cope. While on the insular regions the transportation cost is already putting a great deal of financial pressure to the local communities.”
“I would like to ask you, what specific measures are you planning to take in order to ensure that the most vulnerable parts of our societies are going to have access to financially sound and affordable transportation of goods?”
As for Question 2, Koutoura concentrated on liquified natural gas:
“In relevance to the pollution from the shipping sector and especially in ports: Do you believe we are going to reach our goals regarding the use of LNG and the electricity sources from the land?
“Do you plan to utilize a solution like the one used in California: ¨They demand from the ships to be equipped with the necessary technical infrastructure to use electric power from the land?
“Do you have specific goals for the use of this technology? Or do you have another plan? Do you for example think alternatively the use of hydrogen?
“I would like to add a brief comment: Regarding the letter, sent by our Chair Ms Delli to Ursula von der Leyen, in which she was asking for the creation of a special portfolio in the EC where transportation will be together with the Tourism sector, as you know already the importance of Tourism is enormous. It is the 10% of the EU GDP, 11% of EU jobs are directly linked with Tourism. We think that you can’t have Tourism without Transportation and Transportation without Tourism.”
Thierry Breton keeps referring to the Code of Conduct….as though he actually understands what it is.
French MEP Manuel Bompard said that citizens won’t look at it the same way he does. They either see conflicts of interests or assume as such!
Watch his questioning here.
Something to hide, M. Breton? Why the hurry….our Belgian MEP wonders:
Not a single question yet from either of the big political groups on Breton’s conflicts of interests and questionable ethics. our group co-president Manon Aubry is not impressed…..
As for the Romanian candidate Adina-Ioana Vălean – does she like trains??
This is the one to watch today: France’s Thierry Breton whose position as CEO of the IT firm Atos certainly puts him into numerous conflicts of interests….
Similarly, Greek MEP Stelios Kouloglou has deep misgivings about the Hungarian’s candidacy:
Our first intervention in the hearing comes from Cypriot MEP:
Welcome to our Commissioners’ blog – maybe it’s the last one? Or not…. With news that the UK is refusing to send or nominate a Commissioner until after the December election, who knows if we might be back here again in a few weeks’ time.
And maybe not only the UK Commissioner up for the hearing…. especially if any of these three fail to get through today.
The one to watch: France’s Thierry Breton and Macron-ally for portfolio that includes the internal market, EU industry, defense, space and digital policy.
But first up, Hungary’s premanent representative to the EU, Olivér Várhelyi….friend of Viktor Orbán, no less. A far-right politician in charge of the Enlargement portfolio….yep, that should work well (!).