Commissioner-designate Maroš Šefcovic of Slovakia faced questions ranging from the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty, including the citizens' initiative and the European External Action Service, to electoral reform for European elections, the seat of the Parliament and his concept of Europe. Comments attributed to Mr Šef?ovi? regarding the Roma population were also raised.
Mr Šefcovic underlined his commitment to the European Union and to strengthening the relations between the EU institutions. He stressed the urgent timetable for implementing the Lisbon Treaty, notably regarding the External Action Service and the citizens' initiative.
The first question of the Constitutional Affairs Committee's hearing was on the comments attributed to Mr Šef?ovi? concerning the Roma population. Íñigo Méndez De Vigo (EPP, ES) asked whether the candidate had said in 2005 that the Roma were “exploiters of the Slovak welfare system”.
Mr Šef?ovi? stressed his past work with the Roma and asked: "Please put this work on the same scale with this quote which is five years old, consists of six words and is clearly taken out of context... I did not mean to offend anybody. If I offended, I really regret it." The Commissioner-designate added: "I never had anti-Roma sentiments. I am ready to work with those who want to work with this issue."
József Szajer (EPP, HU) asked Mr Šef?ovi? why he waited for five years to express regret for his comments. "If you want to label me as an anti-Roma politician... then I feel offended", Mr Šef?ovi? replied, recalling his professional background and active cooperation with Roma NGOs.
Implementation of the Lisbon Treaty
Ramón Jáuregui Atondo (S&D, ES) asked if Mr Šef?ovi? will argue in the Commission in favour of the ordinary legislative procedure which gives Parliament full legislative powers. Mr Šef?ovi? regarded the new powers of Parliament as "one of the major plusses" of the Lisbon Treaty and assured MEPs that he would work to ensure that legislative proposals respect this.
Gerald Häfner (Greens/EFA, DE) and Stanimir Ilchev (ALDE, BG) asked for the Commissioner-designate's views on the citizens' initiative. Mr Šef?ovi? said he would press for progress already during the Spanish presidency. Regarding the admissibility of initiatives, he said he does not support the Commission intervening too early.
Roberto Gualtieri (S&D, IT) and Elmar Brok (EPP, DE) put questions on the External Action Service and the Parliament's role in it. Mr Šef?ovi? said: "I have only one goal - that [the EEAS] is a big success." He believed the decision on the EEAS staff regulation would follow the ordinary legislative procedure, thus involving the Parliament, but noted: "the time pressures are enormous".
Answering Andrew Duff's (ALDE, UK) question on electoral reform for European elections, the Commissioner-designate replied: "I would support any measure that would increase participation in the European elections." He added that he would support transnational lists and that it might be better to have 2-day elections in May instead of four days in June.
Seat of the Parliament
Both Ashley Fox (ECR, UK) and Morten Messerschmidt (EFD, DK) asked about the seat of Parliament and if Mr Šef?ovi? would be willing to support treaty changes to end the moves between Brussels and Strasbourg. The Slovak candidate replied that as a member of the Commission he represents the guardian of the treaty and could therefore not have personal views on the issue.
Staff regulation and lobbyist register
Søren Bo Søndergaard (GUE/NGL, DK) wanted to hear the Commissioner-designate's views on the EU staff regulation in regard to lobbying. Mr Šef?ovi? referred to the forthcoming renewal of the regulation and agreed with the MEP that there should be rules covering officials leaving the service.
Mr Šef?ovi? also referred to the institutions' registers of lobbyists and said that it was "not fair" if big consultancies and law firms were able to avoid the standards imposed on others: "If they are lobbying, they must be registered."
Code of Conduct
Representing the Budgetary Control Committee, Ingeborg Grässle (EPP, DE) asked whether Mr Šef?ovi? was in favour of a stricter Code of Conduct for the Commissioners. Mr Šef?ovi? responded he would like to cooperate both with the Parliament and with the team of Commissioners on how to improve it.
In the chair : Carlo CASINI (EPP, IT)