GUE/NGL
News

Day 4: Commission hearings

That’s a wrap for week 1 of the Commission hearings. Back on Monday for the last two days.

 

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01h03  GUE/NGL ABSTAINS ON SCHINAS 

GUE/NGL group does not approve of Margaritis Schinas’s nomination as Vice-President of the Commission.

Our main reasons are:

Margaritis Schinas has evaded all critical questions as to the title of his portfolio and did not commit to any efforts to change the title “Protecting our European way of life”, on the contrary he seems comfortable and supportive of the title despite its extremely disturbing nature , as expressed by a majority of political groups during the hearing. Our group insists on the necessity to change this unacceptable title.

He seemed not to grasp the dangerous implications of the co-existence of culture, security and migration within one portfolio in parallel with the absence of the Justice Commissioner’s portfolio from those under the remits of his coordination. Nor did he understand the necessity to address issues of security from the proper legal point of view on the priority of fundamental rights.

Despite the importance he gives to the Security Union, he displayed a lack of knowledge on important aspects of this portion of his portfolio, in particular with regard to data retention and PNR collection.

It was surprising to hear him saying that rulings by the ECJ will have to be considered. Decisions of the ECJ are to be followed and his role would be to ensure their implementation.

The way he referred to the visit of Commissioner Avramopoulos and member states’ home affairs ministers to Ankara and the solution they will bring to migration management flows, makes us believe that he would repeat untransparent procedures that will, on top of everything else, sideline the European Parliament again.

Even though many vague statements regarding a reform of the CEAS as well as search and rescue and safe and legal pathways to the EU were made by the Vice President-designate, no actual commitments were undertaken. Despite repeated claims of a ‘fresh start’, only old and failed policies were put forward.

His repeated references to access to healthcare failed to convince us that he will pursue policies in favour of promoting free, universal access to quality public healthcare services.

Lastly, by repeatedly referencing to a unique European culture which is to be envied  upon, he showed a deep lack of understanding of cultural diversity to the point of underestimating other cultures.

His denial of the existence of cultural racism in Europe reveals in a flagrant way that he will not take any action to tackle this major issue.

For all the above reasons, our group cannot give a positive evaluation and, thus, abstains.

 

Margaritis Schinas – courtesy of the European Parliament

 

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23h54  GUE/NGL CANNOT SUPPORT ŠUICA

GUE/NGL did not approve of Dubravka Šuica’s nomination for the European Commission. We have submitted the following minority opinion.

Dubravka Šuica did not provide convincing answers as to how she would reconcile with her past voting record on rule of law, transparency, electoral reform, women’s sexual and reproductive health rights and LGBTI rights with a portfolio on ‘Democracy and Demography’.

She gave no firm commitment to the rule of law or respect for the Parliament’s role in the context of Article 7(1) TEU, nor did she provide a clear answer as to how the conference on the Future of Europe will lead to the necessary changes of the EU or a commitment that the Parliament will have a leading role. These shortcomings also concern a clear vision on how to guarantee the citizens’ rights of millions of EU citizens both in the United Kingdom and the EU 27 as well as potentially all 1.8 million Irish citizens born in the North of Ireland to get back their EU membership.

Šuica also failed to provide a firm commitment to support and promote women’s right to self-determination in relation to their own body within the context of her portfolio on demography, or as a member of the college.

Finally, we urge President-elect von der Leyen to remove the word “demography” from the portfolio as it draws on a far-right and nationalist terminology that is used to express anti-immigration views, and promotes population increase centred on a boost to the “native European birth-rates”. Furthermore, using the term ‘demography’ in this portfolio is misleading the public.

Therefore, we call on the Commission to rename the portfolio ‘Democracy and Citizenship’ and for the Commission to develop a comprehensive dialogue with citizens throughout EU member states.

 

Dubravka Šuica, courtesy of European Parliament

 

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20h48

In one fell swoop, Turkish-Cypriot MEP Niyazi Kızılyürek completely dismantled Margaritis Schina’s defence of his outrageous portfolio title:

 

Further, Kızılyürek demanded to know from Schinas what he meant by “some who envy EU culture”.

“Mr Schinas, who has envy for EU culture and from whom shall we protect the EU culture? And do you believe that EU culture in superior?”

 

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20h43

Questions remain over the Croatian nominee Dubravka Šuica’s conservative views on families and women’s sexual and reproductive health rights. As an MEP, she has a dubious record in voting against women’s rights and Spanish MEP Eugenia Palop wanted to question her on this:

 

She added: “Women have a right to choose their maternity. How will the nominee ensure that health services will address those women who have problems having children and those who are forced to when they don’t want them?

“In addition, genital surgeries for children from a non-medical point of view needs more attention. Our children need protection.”

Finally, Palop questioned Šuica if she believes in the conservative and far-right’s pro-family policies:

“Demographic shifts have led to concerns that birth rates below replacement rates will mean smaller nations having older populations and lower working standards.”

“But what the ultra-conservatives, right-wing groups and the far-right advocate is to increase EU natives’ birth rates, focussing on ‘traditional’ family. This anti-gender focus is often xenophobic cand homophobic, and is clearly in breach of EU treaties. What is your position?”

“Do you support the far-right’s policies?”, asked the Spanish MEP.

 

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19h47

Offering her solidarity to Arvanitis is an equally-unimpressed Spanish MEP Sira Rego:

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19h41

For many, the Margaritis Schinas audition is the most anti pated given the controversial title of his portfolio, ‘Protecting Our European Way of Life’ which has also been rejected by four political groups in the Parliament due to its far-right connotation.

Greek MEP Kostas Arvanitis gave Schinas to back down and change the title. Juncker’s former spokesman refused.

 

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19h36 

As Brexit reaches its cliff edge, German MEP Helmut Scholz questions the Croatian nominee Dubravka Šuica in charge of Demography and Democracy what she will do to guarantee the rights of 1.8 citizens in the North of Ireland who, by right, are Irish citizens and thus also EU citizens.

 

 

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19h15 GUE/NGL supports Virginijus Sinkevičius for Environment & Oceans

Our staff coordinator Corinne Cornelisse explains:

“Our members decided to not oppose Sinkevičius for the portfolio.”

“He made some clear commitments on important issues such as chemicals and endocrine disruptors, air quality, Natura2000 and the habitat directive, the protection of wolves, designating more nature protection areas on land and in the oceans, protecting small fisheries communities, make fishing sustainable and stopping overfishing.”

“But we would have liked to hear more specific measures on ending biodiversity loss, deforestation, the protection of the Arctic and the Mediterranean.  Further, he was quite weak and unclear on how he would get his biodiversity goals translated in the crucial areas of agriculture and trade to tackle the devastating impact of these policies.”

 

Virginijus Sinkevičius, courtesy of European Parliament

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18h00

One of the most anticipated hearings is the Greek nominee Margaritas Schinas whose controversial portfolio ‘Protecting Our European Way of Love’ has drawn nothing but ire and scorn.

For Left MEPs, our demands are clear:

 

 

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17h05

Following the Martin Selmayr scandal, the European Parliament and the EU Ombudsman have called for changes to the nomination of procedures for high-grade civil servants in our institutions – asking for more equal opportunities and transparencies.

But as things stand, the Commission’s proposals made by Günther Oettinger are unacceptable, says French MEP Anne-Sophie Pelletier.

Questioning Johannes Hahn, she said:

“You, however, seem to be suggesting that no reforms would be necessary. How is it that the Commission can ignore a request from its own Ombudsman and the Parliament on such an important issue?”

“Don’t you think this could rebuild trust between citizens and the EU?”

“The nomination of a Secretary-General for the Commission was described by the Ombudsman and Parliament as unethical and that this post was filled separately from others. Will you now be doing your best in your new post by ending such practises?

 

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16h40 German MEP Martina Michels’s analysis on the Portuguese candidate, Elisa Ferreira, on the ‘Cohesion and Reforms’ brief:

The group was worried by certain aspects in the written answers which from the Left’s point of view did not sufficiently reflect a strong focus towards defending the solidarity character of the Cohesion Policy, and seemed to be trapped in the economic governance and fiscal discipline dogma of the previous Commission.

In the hearing itself, Ferreira was well-prepared and addressed MEPs’ concerns in a balanced way.

Our MEPs decided to support her as a candidate, but also to take her words in good faith including her promises to work:

– for “the highest possible budget” for Cohesion and that she would advocate against budgetary cuts;

– for more moderate use of macro economic conditionalities;

– for more of the Parliament’s involvement within the country specific recommendations, ie, the EU Semester process

– for a policy that will not impose reforms on member states.

Lastly, we would have liked a more fighting spirit approach regarding the future of cohesion but overall, it was a good evaluation.

 

Elisa Ferreira with REGI Chair Younous Omarjee Courtesy of European Parliament

 

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16h05

Citing the IPCC special report on the state of our oceans, French MEP Manuel Bompard says this forces us to act resolutely to tackle any forms of pollution.

Challenging the Lithuanian nominee Virginijus Sinkevičius, he says:

“Billions of tonnes of oxygen have been left in the oceans due to fertilisers and other nutrients. Seismic exploration also causes noise which are deafening sonar mammals such as whales.”

“Meanwhile, there is increasing activity in the polar region where heavy fuels are being used, and that has an averse impact on plankton organisms. The Arctic is an area we protect in the same way as Antarctic.”

“We talk about a Treaty. But what individual provisions would the Commissioner-designate like to see inscribed in that?”

 

 

 

 

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16hoo  Paolo Gentiloni approved

The Italian nominee for Economy has been given the greenlight by the Parliament’s committee coordinator.

GUE/NGL, however, requested to include a minority view in his letter on the following issues:

  • stronger commitment to reform the European Semester
  • to do more about intra EU tax competition
  • to include a golden rule on public investment in the upcoming review of the two- and six-pack

 

Paolo Gentiloni – courtesy of European Parliament

 

 

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15h35

Greek MEP Elena Kountoura has three themes in her questions to the Austrian nominee Johannes Hahn: the future of the Cohesion Policy, Just Transition to tackle climate change and the importance of tourism to Europe:

 

 

In addition, Kountoura said the next Multinannual Financial Framework needs to be compatible with our climate objectives.

“We must ensure, however, our climate objectives will be fair for all – espeically for the econominally weakest to balance out with those working in areas with a larger carbon footprint.”

“How will you cover the budget to suit the needs of these groups? Is a Just Transition fund sufficient?

EU Tourism

On the issue of tourism, Kountoura says Europe is the number one destination in the world, and it is a pillar of the economy and catalyst for the growth of many economic sectors, bringing in 10% of EU’s GDP, with millions of jobs supported especially in remote and insular areas.

“The Parliament has been pushing for the inclusion of tourism in the next MFF, with a symbolic amount that is far below the real needs.”

“We badly need an EU policy for tourism, such as crisis management for extreme weather conditions brough on by climate change, and security issues.”

“Do you rcognise the importance of the tourism economy for jobs? Are you going to support the inclusion of tourism in the next MFF?”

 

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15h26

Swedish MEP Malin Björk tells the Lithuanian Commission-designate that he has a very important portfolio – with the young and the very very young people watching EU’s actions closely.

For her, climate justice and biodiversity will determine our futures and that the status quo must change; the systems need changing.

“Changes are needed to the Common Agriculture Policy, EU trade policy and EU industrial policy, and consumption patterns in Europe must change.”

But Virginijus Sinkevičius could have a big fight on his hand when up against his colleague, Frans Timmerman:

 

 

 

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14h15

Before the afternoon session gets under way, we tee up the Left’s key demands for the two perspective candidates for Environment & Oceans, and Budget & Administration:

 

 

 

 

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13h00

Our MEPs and staff have deliberated and they were not happy with Kadri Simson’s performance and answers this morning. They will reject her candidacy.

 

 

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11h19

Meanwhile over at the Kadri Simson audition, Spanish MEP Sira Rego was deeply unimpressed:

“There is a direct link between the energy model and climate change that has been identified.”

“There are small groups of big comapanioes dominiating the market and theyare imposing their model of distribution and production oacross the board. The consequcnes are dire.

“We have more than 15 million poeople living in energy poverty, yet the revolving-door culture persists in the Commission where it is all about defending these few companies’ interests.”

 

 

“What is being presented to us by the Commission-designate won’t solve the climate emergency.”

“It’s more of the same…talkiing about an energy transition that protects the interests of those businesses.”

“We are seeing a risk to the sustainability of our planet and we need to do our fair share: efficiency, democratic scrutiny and controlling consumption.”

 

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11h16

Portugal’s José Gusmão had a tough exchange with the Italian nominee to talk about the economic imbalances in the EU, including what he will do about targeting indebted nations and what to do about corporate tax rate.

 

“Our economic and monetary union have macroeconmic imbalances which are systematic and unsustainable in the long term. Will the Italian nominee defend the exclusion of the deficit and what will you do with the surpluses that are systematic across the board?

“One of the problems of indebted economies is that every year some of the fiscal revenues that have to be paid are expropriated, and then end up in other fiscal or tax jurisdctions. And this includes some of the member states! This is unfair competition in terms of fiscal competition!

 

 

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10h40

Quick reaction from Botenga on his exchange with the Estonian nominee

 

 

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10h08

Belgium’s Marc Botenga was not convinced by the Estonian nominee’s written answers in which she demonstrated her preference for pollutants like gas over renewable energy. In the actual hearing itself, Botenga needed iron guarantees from Simson, and how her plans would affect the social dimension:

 

 

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10h05

GUE/NGL co-president Manon Aubry went hard on the Italian nominee when it came to tax justice at the Economics committee hearing with Gentiloni.

She wanted to know what someone who has invested heavily in a company like Amazon will do about multinationals which use aggressive tax planning to deprive EU citizens billions in tax every year.

In particular, she wants assurances that the EU blacklist for tax havens will also be implemented without political interference. That includes reforming the Code of Conduct group that created this list in the first place.

 

 

She told Gentiloni that the criteria for all the destructive and aggressive tax planning should be reviewed.

“Are you going to review the criteria for all damaging and agtrresivetax planning?”

“You say you are going to sanction states that are on the blacklist but what about EU member states like Ireland, Luxembourg? These are countries that are blocking legislations at EU level”

“The EU is becoming a race to the bottom in terms of tax competition, and people are getting more and more intellgient in their aggressive tax planning.  Will you create a minimum corporate rate for companies in Europe?”

“Are you going to force member states to be scrutinised in the same way as we do with third countries?”

“What about tax transparency that is also blocked in the Council? Are you going to get round the impasse by pressing on with the country-by-country reporting?”

 

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09h45

Twelve hours on from grilling Elisa Ferreira in the Cohesion portfolio,  Portugal’s José Gusmão is already in place and will be fighting for tax justice and economic governance  at the Gentiloni hearing

 

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09h30

 

Our MEPs Marc Botenga, Sira Rego & Manuel Bompard are in place and ready to interrogate Kadri Simon on a host of issues relating to industries and energy and how this will impact on citizens’ lives and our planet…

 

 

 

 

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09h20

Kadri Simson represents Estonia’s pick for the Commission and with Energy as her portfolio, here are the key demands and concerns of Left MEPs at her hearing this morning:

 

 

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09h15

Former Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni is up for the Economy portfolio…though his Latvian counterpart also has a portfolio with the word ‘Economy’ in his profile, ‘Economy That Works For People’.

Baffled? Nevermind. Left MEPs’ demands and concerns go for ALL of them!

 

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09h00

Day 3 saw the lights go out on one hearing, and the lights going out (possibly for good) for another.

Will Day 4 be as dramatic? There is the evening hearing of the most controversial portfolio of them all: ‘Protecting our European Way of Life’ with former Commission spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas…. there may be fireworks….

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