We shouldn’t forget the hearings are theatre

We’ve had some interesting feedback on the scorecard so far. So thank you for all your input. One of the themes (criticisms) we’ve come up against is the idea that we’re avoiding taking a stand on the politics and policy by not commenting on the ‘substance’ of the hearings.

In fact, we do include the grasp of policy in our criteria (it’s included in credibility and we all refer to it in our individual pieces).  We just don’t make it the centre piece of our assessment. Because that’s what everybody else does. And we don’t have a political or policy axe to grind so we’ve chosen not to have that conversation here.

Of course the substance matters. But the idea that the Commissioners are going to have the depth of knowledge or experience of this particular brief before they are in the job, or are going to drop some kind of moral howler which will force them to withdraw is naive.

Furthermore, we shouldn’t forget that these events are highly stage managed pieces of political theatre where opening statements and follow up Q&A are not only prepared in advance but tightly corralled in terms of time.

As such they are, in many ways, a series of long elevator pitches in which smart Commissioners set out their vision and (some) MEPs ride their particular hobby horse so that they can tweet about it afterwards and say they are doing something. Everyone knows the rules of the game and cuts their cloth accordingly.

In this context, making an assessment of how well a Commissioner weaves their substance (or lack of) into an argument, connects with their audience and seems fired up for the job is not un-important. For too long these qualities have been considered secondary in Brussels, which is almost certainly one of the reasons why euroscepticism is on the up.

The aim of our project is to try and make an early assessment of the kinds of skills the Commissioners will need if they are going to make the EU more accountable and accessible to all Europeans. Policy and personal character matter as well. But they are not the only skills that should be valued.

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