Author Archives: Andreas

01.10, 0900 – Marianne Thyssen (Employment, Social Affairs, Skills & Labour Mobility)

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Political Flair 8 / 10
Credibility 8 / 10
Energy 8 / 10
Warmth 7 / 10
Ability to connect with people outside Brussels 8 / 10
Likelihood of being approved by the EP 10 / 10
Overall rating 8 / 10

Marianne Thyssen almost nailed it. “In life it is important to say things as they are” was a refreshing opening line for a EP hearing. Fighting unemployment and putting the “social” back into ‘social market economy’ will be her priorities. She seemed confident and on top of her topic. You could tell that she is an extremely experienced politician and that she has a background in EU politics; also when she announced to have “no quick solutions for complex problems”. Her analysis of the crisis in Europe was also spot-on: “We have not managed to restore the confidence of Europeans”. She repeatedly highlighted that current levels of unemployment are simply unacceptable. Her aim is to create a fairer and a more sustainable Europe. As a former MEP she clearly knows what her audience wants to hear (do I really have to mention that she can effortlessly switch between English, Dutch and French?) Well, so far so good.

The problem of the hearing emerged in the second part of her opening statement – and continued through the Q&A sessions: The toolbox of the European Commission is extremely limited in this area – but at least she is fully aware of the problem as you could tell from her answers to MEPs.

“I want to stimulate investment in job creation, help unemployed back to work – and I will mobilise all available financial instruments to invest in people…” is one of those sentences that sums up the paradox of grand plans but limited EU competence. Most of the issues firmly lie in the responsibility of the member states and it remains questionable how exactly the EC can improve the situation (except with some rather small funding instruments and a few recommendations) What exactly can the European Commission do to boost job creation, growth, labour mobility etc? Is it enough to include more social elements in the European semester? Questions that Mariann Thyssen will continue to address in the coming years.

She vehemently defended the principle of ‘free movement’ but she might look into the problems of the ‘posted workers’ directive’ – something that will be welcomed in the UK and Germany. Her political approach is straight forward. Facts inform policy. Solid analysis guides negotiations. She seemed competent and came across as a tough and clever negotiator. (It’s not surprising that Herman Van Rompuy discovered her political talents). I think she might surprise us as a European Commissioner.

In her closing statement, Thyssen put her fate into the hands of the member states: Her term as Commissioner can only be called a success if the unemployment situation in Europe has improved.

Photo: CC License from Flickr – original source here.

01.10, 0900 – Corina Crețu (Regional Policy)

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Political Flair 5 / 10
Credibility 6 / 10
Energy 6 / 10
Warmth 5 / 10
Ability to connect with people outside Brussels 5 / 10
Likelihood of being approved by the EP 7.5 / 10
Overall rating 5.5 / 10

Corina Crețu is a former spokesperson of Romanian president Ion Iliescu and she has been an MEP since 2007. However, in her opening statement she did not mention her experience in the European Parliament which is surprising given her general lack of experience when it comes to regional policy. She also seemed a bit nervous reading out a statement that did not work as a speech – a surprise, given her long career in politics. Maybe this is indeed one of the key lessons for many politician in Brussels: Speechwriting and drafting policy documents are two different things. If you only use headlines from the DG REGIO website for your speech you end up with some sort of ‘regional policy bullshit bingo’:

Regulatory framework – check;  conditionality, more jobs and growth, synergies, community action – check; programming period, not business as usual, beneficiaries, concrete results, together we are stronger – check;  good governance, institutional capacity, sound financial management, evaluation – check; zero tolerance to fraud, constructive dialogue, transparency, mutual trust – check.

There was absolutely no vision in her opening statement. No new ideas, nothing.  We don’t know what she is planning in the coming years or what her priorities will be. She had nothing to say, and used many words to say it. There were a lot of general and vague statements without a clear structure (despite her insistence of using numbers to structure her speech) At some point it even felt that she contradicted herself by saying that ‘regional policy is a tool of solidarity’ but not ‘charity from rich to poor’.

Let’s hope that one of the MEPs will ask how her “zero tolerance to fraud” will work in practice and how she intends to make life simpler for SMEs that find regional policy instruments “too bureaucratic”. During the first round of questions a few misunderstandings happened and she struggled to make a point in the allocated time – the next two hours could become quite difficult for Corina Crețu…

Photo: CC License from Flickr – original source here.

30.09, 1800 – Maroš Šefčovič (Transport, Space)

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Political Flair 6 / 10
Credibility 8 / 10
Energy 7 / 10
Warmth 5 / 10
Ability to connect with people outside Brussels 5 / 10
Likelihood of being approved by the EP 10 / 10
Overall rating 7 / 10

It is not a giant leap to swap “inter-institutional relations” with “space policy” when you work in a place called Berlaymont. A cynic might respond that the European Commission is not the sort of environment  where giant leaps are possible anyway. But, be that as it may, you can tell that Maroš Šefčovič, the former European Commission Vice President, must have read many Commission proposals (and the infamous citizens’ summaries!) during his time in Brussels. He knows what’s going on in different DGs, he is slick and professional.

However, his opening statement was a breathless recital of a list of bullet points he seemingly copy/pasted into a document. How to put this nicely? The art of reading out loud a written statement and making it sound like a great speech is not one of Maroš Šefčovič’s strengths. It sounded like this: “Transport is at the heart of European integration … Europe needs all modes of transport … we need a sustainable and innovative transport system … I am a strong believer in [include one of EU’s transport initiatives] … transport is the backbone of modern society …  it’s important for the 21st century … it is a showcase for European competitiveness… and we need to protect the environment”. But it was almost funny to hear him promise  “cool jobs for young people” (!) in the context of “interoperable, integrated products”. And yes, he mentioned the “deep and comprehensive” approach. Well, this is just the sort of Brussels jargon nobody really understands. The substance was definitely there but the sparks were missing. And when I say substance I mean a lot  of promises.

As he has been in Brussels for a while he also knows how to flatter MEPs (maybe he remembers the rather awkward hearing 5 years ago): he not only reminded MEPs that he also ran for the European Parliament and campaigned in the election campaign he also also did a very impressive “Juncker” switching between Slovak, German, English and French.

Photo: CC License from Flickr – original source here.

30.09, 1800 – Christos Stylianides (Humanitarian Aid & Crisis Management)

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Political Flair 9 / 10
Credibility 7 / 10
Energy 10 / 10
Warmth 5 / 10
Ability to connect with people outside Brussels 7 / 10
Likelihood of being approved by the EP 9 / 10
Overall rating 8 / 10

Christos “the voice” Stylianides gave a passionate opening statement about the challenges of humanitarian aid. In fact, it was so passionate that he probably could have entertained the chamber without a microphone. If he wanted to demonstrate how forceful a “voice of the voiceless” (that he aims to become) could sound – I think he did quite well. However, giving a passionate speech only works if you are able to alternate your passion with some quiet, reflective points. Here, he clearly failed. We witnessed 10 minutes of pure adrenalin. But then again, considering the occasion we should be thankful that there are still politicians hat show some signs of passion.

Overall, he seemed well-briefed and said the right things. He also talked about his past as a doctor and his background of growing up in Cyprus to make the point that he understands the importance of humanitarian aid and aid workers. He sounded like an experienced politician although he never held a ministerial post back in Cyprus. One of the interesting bits in his speech was his commitment that aid should be based on ‘needs – not on political expediency’ – something that other Commissioners with foreign policy portfolios may disagree with.

Did I mention he sounded passionate? Actually he almost sounded like a NGO worker who was a bit overexcited by the “huge challenges” ahead of him. And he managed to put all those challenges in one long sentence: Ebola, ISIS, South Sudan…  Unfortunately his statement also included some worn-out catch phrases. He wants to become the “spokesperson of the most vulnerable” who also cares about the “forgotten crisis”. He agrees that “prevention is better than cure”, and that the EU should stop with its strategy of doing “too little too late”. Here is an exercise: Make 1 (ONE) sentence using the words “transparency”,“accountability”, “risk assessment”, “constant evaluation”, “resilience building” and “economies of scale” and you’ll get the idea…

Well, after a while it got a bit tiring with all this passion and thankfully the round of questions began. Stylianides also switched from English to Greek which changed the whole atmosphere (at least for the non-Greek speakers). “Dear colleague, thank you for your question…” became the new meme of the hearing. But overall he played it cool, he knew his stuff, he answered to all questions with ease and agreed with a lot of what Parliamentarians suggested (always a good strategy in hearings!).

Stylianides seems like a humble guy. He mentioned a few times that he is still learning about some of the issues. He was also not afraid to say that he does not (yet)  know about a certain topic – a rare thing for politicians to admit. He stressed the need to cooperate with other Commissioners and emphasised his commitment to continue the work of Kristalina Georgieva.

So, don’t expect big surprises when it comes to EU humanitarian aid.

Photo: CC License from Flickr – original source here.