EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Leaders of the four largest political groups in the European Parliament on Tuesday (15 December) called for transparency and complete information about the commissioner candidates ahead of the January hearings, with the Bulgarian nominee emerging as the most controversial.
"The hearings are a very powerful tool in the hands of the Parliament to check the skills and competences of commissioner candidates," Socialist group leader Martin Schulz said at a press conference.
The three-hour hearings for each of the 26 commissioner candidates are to begin on 11 January and take place in Brussels and Strasbourg in the parliamentary committees dealing with topics related to the nominee's portfolio.
MEPs sitting in the specialised committees can push for a reshuffle of candidates or even for some competences to be given from one to another portfolio, if they are not "properly structured," said Mr Schulz.
The leader of the second largest group in the Parliament emphasised "competence" over political colour or nationality.
He referred to the precedent set in 2004, when parliamentarians raised flags against several nominees. Italy's Rocco Buttiglione was rejected by the justice and civil liberties MEPs after defending his personal gay-unfriendly views.
Hungary's Laszlo Kovacs failed in the hearings for the energy file and was put in charge of taxation, while Latvian surprise-candidate Ingrida Udre was withdrawn by the government in Riga and replaced with Andris Piebalgs.
As to the largest group, the centre-right European People's party, earlier rhetoric about the commissioner hearings which makes "affiliation with corrupt or repressive regimes" a reason for rejection appears to have been toned down. Its leader Joseph Daul said "there will be no witch hunt, no man or woman hunt."
He defended the centre-right nominee from Bulgaria, Rumiana Jeleva, whose husband is alleged to have connections with organised crime networks which plague the EU's newest member. She was also only 26 when member of a privatisation board. This has caused the Bulgarian media to question the people behind her.
"She [Ms Jeleva] will be telling us about her husband's activities in the hearings, in the spirit of full transparency. I'm not worried at all," Mr Daul said.
Asked about Ms Jeleva, Mr Schulz said he didn't want to "prejudge" anything that could happen in the hearing. "We know who they are, their past, their expertise. But we don't know what the future brings, how they will be reacting in a hearing," the German politician explained.
The smaller Green group was more vocal in calling for "transparency" and "complete information" on all the nominees whom there are rumours about.
They were also unhappy with the carve-up of portfolios in the environment sector, which is split between energy, climate change and environment.
As for the Liberals, their leader Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, tabled a 30-page long document which includes guidelines for each candidate to successfully come through the January questioning.
"We will send this doc today to the nominees. They have to know in advance what the priorities are for the Alliance of European Liberals and Democrats (ALDE)," he explained.
The guidelines focus on economic recovery, the introduction of EU taxes and the creation of EU bonds. On the external front, Mr Verhofstadt said his group was interested in how the new high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, was planning to structure the diplomatic service.
"We want to hear from Ms Ashton how the European External Action Service can be put in place without creating parallel structures with EU commission delegations that exist today," he said.
Speaking to MEPs on Tuesday afternoon, commission president Jose Manuel Barroso asked the parliament to respect the "competence of the commission" and said that the fact that he is starting his second term as president meant he was "well-informed" about how the EU executive should be internally organised.