Author Archives: Jon

07.10, 1430 – Frans Timmermans (First Vice President)

timmermans

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

This was a political performer in his element. Timmermans delivered his opening statement in flawless English, and weaved a story of how Europe mattered to him and why the European Union matters. He spoke swiftly, with some conviction, and with positive and engaging body language. It was almost more like a speech befitting of a Commission President, not a Vice President.

The EU has seen amazing change in 25 years, not least in central and eastern Europe he said. The European Union has also avoided meltdown and fragmentation, and this was welcome. He kept MEPs happy saying that this is “the first European Commission truly born in the European Parliament”.

The European Union is a community of nations and people, he said. EU can be strong if member states are strong, and the strength of member states depends on the strength of the union. He also promised to take debates to National Parliaments.

The nature of Timmermans’s portfolio means he could not be especially concrete on any specifics, although he did say he would work to ensure the implementation of a mandatory lobby register. On the topic of better regulation, it is not about deregulation, he said, and this process must not be an attack on social rights or environmental protection. He was also clear that there must be consistent and scrupulous in the application of the rule of law – both from the Commission and Member States.

Timmermans was even better in his replies to questions, using Dutch, Italian, French and German, as well as English in his replies. He even apologised for not being able to reply in Polish. He showed stature and sharpness, did his best to reply directly to the questions posed, and was not afraid to make very political and ethical points.

He scores 9 and not higher more because his portfolio means he could not be as concrete as he too might have liked. Timmermans is most definitely one to watch in this Commission.

Photo: CC License from flickr – original source here.

07.10, 1000 – Jyrki Katainen (Jobs, Growth etc.)

katainen

Political Flair 6 / 10
Credibility 7 / 10
Energy 7 / 10
Warmth 7 / 10
Ability to connect with people outside Brussels 6 / 10
Likelihood of being approved by the EP 9 / 10
Overall rating 7 / 10

A confident looking Katainen set out his stall at the start – that his statement would be more about his background and standing as a person, and less about the concrete details of his portfolio. This was a fair start, especially in light of the difficulties Bratušek and Dombrovskis had faced the previous day trying to work out where their VP portfolios ended and the portfolios of the regular Commissioners started.

Katainen started with a story about his personal background – how Erasmus had allowed him to study abroad, something that his family would not have been able to afford. He also said he had been a foot soldier in the campaign in the 1990s for Finland to join the European Union.

He said is political philosophy was based on 4 points: Encouragement, Civilisation, Tolerance and Social responsibility, although his explanation of what these actually meant. He also said that he stepped down from his role in national politics to focus on the EU, words that came across as a little hollow.

Katainen’s delivery, in English alone in his opening statement, was reasonably engaging and smooth. While he read a lot, he also looked up from time to time, and engaged the audience in eye contact. He also brought along iPod earphones rather than the clunky EP ones to use when listening to interpretation – a classy touch.

The end of his statement was especially strong. “I do not recognise how I have sometimes been portrayed,” he said. “Finland is not the wild west!”

His response to questions was an interesting one. He tended to recap the questions posed to him by MEPs, trying to actually get to the essence of the waffle that came from many of them. This was an interesting tactic, but bordered on the patronising. He was strong in response to a UKIP question on free movement of people – is a core value he said, and he said the EU needed to get to the bottom of the practical problems. When it came to his role as Prime Minister and Euro bailouts he was less sure, answering a question from a Greek GUE MEP about collateral demanded for bailouts by blaming his electoral opponents in Finland – his effort to portray himself as a pragmatist did not entirely convince.

In the end party politics, with his party at the core of the EPP, will probably see Katainen through, while his intelligence and decent ability to communicate will serve him well in the Commission. What he did as Prime Minister, and the broad nature of his portfolio, prevented him putting in a stellar performance though.

Photo: CC License from flickr – original source here.

06.10, 1830 – Andrus Ansip (Digital)

ansip

Political Flair 5 / 10
Credibility 8 / 10
Energy 5 / 10
Warmth 4 / 10
Ability to connect with people outside Brussels 6 / 10
Likelihood of being approved by the EP 9 / 10
Overall rating 6 / 10

Cautious yet reasonably concrete are the words that spring to mind to describe Ansip’s performance.

His opening statement was delivered in English, slowly and carefully, and essentially just reading from his notes, and looking up to engage MEPs in eye contact at the end of each section. While his style was far from engaging, it was nevertheless stable and reassuring, giving the impression that he is someone that can command some trust. He made many references to his 9 years as Prime Minister of Estonia, and what he had learnt in that time when it comes to digitalisation – here is someone whose experience matches the portfolio Juncker has allocated to him.

Ansip also had the right lines when it came to the substance. We do not yet have a Single Market ready for the digital age, he said, but it is important that we should not regulate everything, but do need to create the right legal environment. This of course will be done in close consultation with the European Parliament.

He also made a fair effort to make his ideas concrete: “People are the starting point for everything […] what Europe can do to improve people’s quality of life,” he said, going on to explain how he thought that security and confidence, and protection of privacy, are the cornerstone of the digital single market. He also promised to look at copyright reform, and to reduce barriers to cross-border trade in the Single Market online. There were some internal points for the Commission too – paperless government can work, he said, and eInvoices and eProcurement should be introduced in the Commission by 2015, and eSignatures by the end of the mandate.

Ansip’s responses to questions – mostly in English, and sometimes in Estonian – were in a similar vein. He showed a decent grasp of his subject, and particularly when it came to points about government services online showed greater personal steel and inner commitment to these issues. He was also asked about his Communist past – “my past is open and transparent” he said, for the first time with a little edge in his voice.

We are “only limited by our imagination” he said in his level monotone at the end of his opening statement. Perhaps so, but a listener is left wondering how much imagination Ansip himself has. Here was a calm, grey, knowledgeable and reassuring figure, who will do a solid job.

Photo: CC License from flickr – original source here.

A few words about the review of Elżbieta Bieńkowska’s hearing

When I watched the Elżbieta Bieńkowska hearing, and scored it 5/10, little did I know how much controversy that score would cause. It has been hit back and forth online now for days, becoming a political football in Polish politics in some way. There are also a bunch of comments under the post.

I’m going to explain the background of this a little further.

First, before this hearing I have never heard a speech given by Bieńkowska. Before she was nominated to be a member of Juncker’s Commission I had never even heard of her. I have no party political affiliation in Poland, nor indeed with any of the parties that are scrapping over her nomination. So make of it what you like, but I am in no way playing any Polish political game. I do not give a damn about that.

Second, as Polish MEP Róża Thun points out in this tweet:


I do own the Twitter account @BienkowskaEU. But this, like @ZapateroEU, @PascalLamyEU, @TimmermansEU and a number of others I own are just placeholders. They are not fakes, as Thun alleges. I register placeholder accounts just in case they might be useful in the future, and if the politician in question wants the account I will hand it over to them, for free.

Third, this whole project is about Commissioners’ ability (or not) to communicate. In my view Bieńkowska failed on this, and that is the reason for the low score – pure and simple. Her opening statement was a stream of soundbites, and her responses to MEPs were not any better. She had no clear rhetoric about what she would do in the post, nor an ability to communicate this to an audience beyond Brussels, and that is what we are looking for in this project.

Her communications were not very good, in my view, and that is why she received a low score. Why is that so complicated?

06.10, 1430 – Alenka Bratušek (Energy)

bratusek

Political Flair 4 / 10
Credibility 3 / 10
Energy 4 / 10
Warmth 4 / 10
Ability to connect with people outside Brussels 4 / 10
Likelihood of being approved by the EP 5 / 10
Overall rating 4 / 10

The eyes of Brussels were on the Bratušek hearing, and she had plenty of smiles when arriving in the room. Her 12 minute opening speech was delivered soundly, relatively smoothly, although slightly breathlessly at the start. When talking about her time as Prime Minister she stated that she was used to working in high tension environment, but said that “a woman’s soft touch is needed to calm things down” – that line gained little favour with this reviewer.

On the question of her nomination she was clear and brief. Slovenia had two options, she said, either to wait for government formation in September, or put forward a list of three names to Juncker, and allow him to choose, and choose he did, she said.

Her opening statement, when it came to the specific aspects of her portfolio, was a line of sound bites one after the other, and it was impossible to work out what her own stamp would be on the policy.

As if that were not bad enough, things went downhill still further. The second question, from S&D MEP Kathleen Van Brempt MEP was about who, between her and Cañete, would set priorities in renewables and she had no answer. Concrete questions about finance (from Julie Girling), and further on renewables from Greens Turmes and Eickhout, were also not answered with any degree of conviction. She also kept on saying “at the risk of repeating myself”, and her body language became more and more defensive.

This hearing became painful to watch after just an hour. It is hard to tell what is due to Bratušek’s lack of grip of her subject, and what is due to general nerves and a general lack of communications ability. But this hearing has set a new low among the hearings so far.

Photo: CC License from flickr – original source here.

Round up – week 1

So we’ve rated all the hearings in the first week and here is the league table:

Neven Mimica – 9.5
Kristalina Georgieva – 9
Vytenis Andriukaitis – 9
Miguel Arias Cañete – 9
Margrethe Vestager – 8.5
Ceclia Malmström – 8.5
Pierre Moscovici – 8
Phil Hogan – 8
Marianne Thyssen – 8
Christos Stylianides – 8
Dimitris Avramopoulos – 8
Johannes Hahn – 7.5
Carlos Moedas – 7
Jonathan Hill – 7
Věra Jourová – 7
Maroš Šefčovič – 7
Günther Oettinger – 7
Tibor Navracsics – 6
Corina Crețu – 5.5
Karmenu Vella – 5.5
Elżbieta Bieńkowska – 5

Remember that we’ve been rating the Commissioners on their ability to communicate, and not on the substance of their briefs or their likelihood of being approved by the European Parliament.

That Georgieva, Malmström and Vestager score highly should be no surprise, but the appearance of Mimica, Andriukaitis and Cañete at the top of the table cannot have been expected in advance.

Anyway, take the long weekend to mull over our conclusions, and we will be back on Monday with scores for the final hearings!

02.10, 1800 – Margrethe Vestager (Competition)

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 14.37.10

Political Flair 6 / 10
Credibility 9 / 10
Energy 7 / 10
Warmth 7 / 10
Ability to connect with people outside Brussels 6 / 10
Likelihood of being approved by the EP 10 / 10
Overall rating 8.5 / 10

“I will not be swayed by anyone” were the stand out words from Vestager’s introduction. She started briefly in Danish, and then switched to English, and had a stronger focus on the principles with which she will conduct her work than policy specifics – but that is inevitable given she is nominee for the Competition portfolio.

Unlike some nominees Vestager did not just read a script, instead glancing at what I assume was a list of bullet points. Her delivery was calm and reassured, and then when questions started she became a little more animated, showing small glimpses of a sense of humour when dealing with questions that were more rants than questions from MEPs. She also had mastered the main aspects of her brief prior to the hearing.

The Competition portfolio is a slightly odd one in the College of Commissioners – operating more alone than the other portfolios, and with more a question of the judgment of the Commissioner. Vestager’s calm reassurance – even gaining a positive reception from ECR MEP Kay Swinburne – struck the right note in this respect. She will be a competent, reassuring, calm and reliable Commissioner, and that is exactly the impression she has given in this hearing.

Photo: CC License from flickr – original source here.

02.10, 1330 – Elżbieta Bieńkowska (Internal Market, Industry)

biekowska

Political Flair 5 / 10
Credibility 6 / 10
Energy 7 / 10
Warmth 4 / 10
Ability to connect with people outside Brussels 4 / 10
Likelihood of being approved by the EP 9 / 10
Overall rating 5 / 10

Jobs and growth!

There can be no sustainable growth without a solid industrial base!

Industry is the heart of the real economy!

Goods and services are mutually dependent!

We need to boost industry’s competitiveness!

My approach will be comprehensive and will encompass all sectors!

Health and safety come first! (oh, hang on, wasn’t that jobs and growth?)

Let’s put Europe back to work!

So was the style of Bieńkowska’s hearing; it was in the Pizza Quattro Stagioni approach to hearings – give every member of the European Parliament a bit of a good taste, but at the expense of lacking any overall coherence. She also name checked half of her fellow Commissioners, trying to give the impression of being a collegial player.

Bieńkowska mostly read from a written script, clearly tried to cover a lot, and was high on slogans and sound-bites, and low on concrete policy commitments. Everything was a priority for her, meaning it was hard to tell what her priority actually was. A question from the S&D group tried to get more information about the balance of free markets and investment, and here too she tried to present both sides.

There is also something rather strange about Bieńkowska’s delivery, either in English (her initial statement) or in Polish (when answering) – she comes across as very stern and formal, patronising almost in her body language. Occasionally when answering questions she became more animated, and started to move her hands and engage MEPs in eye contact and came across better than in the initial statement.

Photo: CC License from flickr – original source here.

01.10, 1800 – Tibor Navracsics (Education, Culture, Youth & Citizenship)

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 14.37.10

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

Navracsics played it straight and simply. Starting  by saying how honoured he was to be nominated, and in slightly ponderous English, he continued by saying how he was a “committed European” and that he would work in the European interest and no other. EU and Hungary have disagreed on some matters, he said, but the EU gives us space to resolve our disputes. We are united by the same European values. This dealt with the critique of his background, although it may not be enough to reassure MEPs.

He spoke English throughout and was just reading a pre-prepared speech. This gave his delivery something of the quality of a university professor – not unpleasant, but hardly engaging.

There were two main points he referred to often – that youth unemployment was a major priority, and that what he sought to do had to be done together with member states with whom the main competences lie.

He outlined 6 priorities: education at the heart of jobs and growth. Invest in teachers and classrooms. Ensure that cultural and creative industries can flourish in the digital world – no trade negotiation will undermine culture. Universities to become the best in the world. Work closely with Thyssen to fight youth unemployment – target resources of his portfolio. Give young people more of a political voice, embrace the disadvantaged, and to reach 1 million young people with new platforms. Renew sense of citizenship – more than a complement to national citizenships.

Overall Navracsics put in a stable performance. He said nothing that inspired, but also put no foot wrong either. He will be a grey and rather unimpressive member of the European Commission if approved. But MEPs must make a judgment call on his background – this was a performance of a quiet professorial figure, not a firebrand like his former boss Orbán.

Recording of the live stream can be found here.

Photo: CC License from Flickr – original source here.

What this project is *not*

I’ve come in for some grief this afternoon for Malmström getting 7.5/10 in her hearing, because the substance of what she said caused some controversy. Tweets like this:

came my way.

Among the 8 people currently volunteering on this project we have no common ideology. Some of us may agree with TTIP, others disagree. Same for green issues, security and defence and many others. This was outlined in our original introduction.

We therefore aim to assess the Commissioners’ capacity to communicate, and the grasp of their brief, and how they come across in their hearings. That’s it.

Gripe with us if you wish. Disagree with the politics of the Commissioners by all means. But we are not trying to judge whether their policies are right.