European Parliament backs final commission nominee

Phil Hogan to take up role on first of November as Slovenia’s Violeta Bulc is endorsed

 Violeta Bulc of Slovenia, the designated European commissioner for transport, speaks at her hearing at the European Parliament in Strasbourg,  yesterday. Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

Violeta Bulc of Slovenia, the designated European commissioner for transport, speaks at her hearing at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, yesterday. Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

 

Irish commissioner-designate Phil Hogan will take up his new role in Brussels on November 1st, after the European Parliament backed the last remaining nominee for the European Commission at a hearing in Strasbourg.

Having rejected Slovenia’s original nominee, former prime minister Alenka Bratusek, the European Parliament’s transport committee endorsed Slovenia’s replacement commissioner, Violeta Bulc, following a three-hour hearing on Monday night. Ms Bulc (50), who had been a minister in the Slovenian government for just three weeks before her nomination, won the support of the main political groups to become the European Commission’s next transport commissioner.

As a result, the European Parliament is expected to endorse the 28 commissioners nominated by Jean-Claude Juncker at today’s vote in Strasbourg, paving the way for the new European Commission to take office on November 1st.

Mr Juncker, who will outline his priorities for the next five years to the European Parliament ahead of today’s vote, is also expected to announce further changes to portfolios, including the removal of the “citizenship” portfolio from Hungarian nominee Tibor Navracsics as requested by the parliament.

Yesterday, outgoing European Commission president José Manuel Barroso defended the achievements of the EU over the past 10 years, describing his period in office as a time of “crisis”. Recalling the rejection of the EU constitutional treaty and the various treaty votes in Ireland in the early years of his first term, he said the euro zone crisis was “probably the biggest [crisis] since the beginning of the European integration process in the 1950s.”

However, he stressed that the crisis was not the fault of Europe, but of national supervision. He also defended the EU’s handling of the Ukraine crisis, highlighting the “historic” signing of an association agreement between the EU and Ukraine last month.

However the leader of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, Gianni Pittella, criticised Mr Barroso for not mentioning Europe’s unemployment levels. He described the policy of austerity as the “original sin” of the commission.

Mr Juncker assumes the mantle at the European Commission at a time when the debate over austerity versus growth has intensified. He has pledged a €300 billion investment plan for Europe. Details are unlikely to emerge before the end of the year.

Earlier in Strasbourg, MEPs debated the direction of EU economic policy. Commissioner-designate Jyrki Katainen noted that those countries which had made reforms were growing, while those who had refrained from implementing much-needed reforms were struggling.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy said many governments, including Ireland’s, were “obsessed with austerity policies”. “Countries that have needed a new radical economic policy have instead been subjected to what’s been a disastrous agenda.”

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes said after the debate that while it was important to stick to fiscal rules, Germany needed to endorse an investment strategy.

Separately, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party declined to confirm reports that the party had linked up with a xenophobic Polish MEP in a bid to re-form the European Freedom and Direct Democracy group which collapsed last week following the defection of a Latvian MEP.