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Friday, September 3, 1999 Published at 09:42 GMT 10:42 UK

World: Europe

MEPs continue commission probe

MEPs are trying to exercise more power over the commission

Hearings into the prospective new members of the European Commission are continuing in Brussels, after a row over a probation period for new commissioners was averted.

EU in crisis

Committees of MEPs are quizzing each of the 19 prospective commissioners in turn, after the previous commission was forced to resign in March over a corruption scandal.

On Friday, it is the turn of David Byrne and Antonio Vitorino to face parliamentary committees.

Mr Byrne, a former Irish attorney general, is the prospective health and consumer protection commissioner, while former Portuguese defence minister Mr Vitorino expects to take on the justice and home affairs portfolio.

Click here for a full list of the prospective new commissioners


On Thursday members of the European Parliament dropped their suggestion that the entire commission be put on probation for three months.

Commission President Romani Prodi had threatened to resign if his commissioners were not given a full five-year mandate.

[ image: Pascal Lamy had a smoother ride than expected]
Pascal Lamy had a smoother ride than expected
The European Parliament, which has always had less power than the commission, has been asserting its authority more insistently, but on this occasion Mr Prodi forced the MEPs to back down.

However the leader of the dominant centre right party, Hans Gerd Poettering, says that for legal reasons there will still have to be two separate votes confirming Mr Prodi's team.

This is because the new commissioners are required first to serve out the last three months of the executive of Jacques Santer, who resigned in March.

They would then go on for a full five-year term in their own right.

According to Mr Poettering, MEPs will have to endorse the commissioners for each period to make their appointment legally safe.

That would mean two votes, as the MEPs originally wanted, although it is now proposed they should both be held on the same day, 15 September.

In return, Mr Poettering wants Romano Prodi to work to improve relations between the Commission and the European Parliament.

No lame duck

[ image: Chris Patten does not want to go to the UN as a lame duck]
Chris Patten does not want to go to the UN as a lame duck
"We don't want to start the new Commission's life aspiring to be a lame duck that may fly in three or four months," prospective foreign affairs commissioner Chris Patten told reporters after his three-hour confirmation hearing on Thursday.

Mr Patten noted one of his first jobs, if appointed, would be to attend the United Nations General Assembly.

"What do I say to US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright - that I'm here for three months and may be back in January?" Mr Patten said.

Very pleased

Pascal Lamy, nominated as the new trade commissioner, used his confirmation hearing on Thursday to deny any misconduct in two controversial episodes during the years he worked for former Commission President Jacques Delors.

"Nobody brought up anything that had a bad effect on Mr Lamy. We are very pleased," Johannes Swoboda, vice-president of the Socialist Group, told reporters afterwards.

The Parliament's industry committee coordinator for the centre-right European People's Party, Giles Chichester, told journalists it would be hard to reject Lamy on the strength of the hearing.

"It is very difficult to say 'no'. He is competent," he said.

Asked why the Parliament's industry committee had been so accommodating to Mr Lamy, with just a few questions asked about scandals during his time at the commission, Mr Chichester said there had been little time for follow-up questions, which diminished the potential for tough interrogation.

The appointments list

The Commission is responsible for proposing EU legislation and for ensuring member states comply with it.

France, Germany, Britain, Spain and Italy supply two commissioners each, and the remaining 10 countries one each.

  • President: Romano Prodi (Italy)
  • Vice-President: Neil Kinnock (UK) - administrative reforms
  • Vice-President: Loyola de Palacio (Spain) - relations with EU parliament, transport, energy
  • Franz Fischler (Austria) - agriculture, fisheries
  • Mario Monti (Italy) - competition
  • Erkki Liikanen (Finland) - information society, companies
  • Michel Barnier (France) - regional policy
  • Pascal Lamy (France) - trade
  • Poul Nielsen (Denmark) - development, humanitarian aid
  • Frits Bolkestein (Netherlands) - single market
  • Chris Patten (UK) - external relations
  • Michaele Schreyer (Germany) - budget
  • Guenter Verheugen (Germany) - enlargement
  • Pedro Solbes Mira (Spain) - economic and monetary affairs
  • Anna Diamantopoulou (Greece) - employment, social affairs
  • Antonio Vitorino (Portugal) - justice, home affairs
  • David Byrne (Ireland) - health, consumer protection
  • Philippe Busquin (Belgium) - research
  • Margot Wallstroem (Sweden) - environment
  • Viviane Reding (Luxembourg) - education, culture

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