The European Parliament has the power to hire, or fire, the European Commission. A very important power – or is it?
The truth is that Member States grudgingly gave us power, in the form of a ʻnuclearʼ option. We can only approve or reject the entire College of Commissioners, not back, or sack, individuals on merit.
The recent debate in the European Parliament over the 24 new Commissioners has been fierce, with MEPs trading harsh words concerning the suitability of individual nominees. Although most MEPs have misgivings about individuals, many will vote for the commission. There are two reasons for this: first, some individual MEPs will be reluctant to reject the commission based on the poor performance of a few. Second, the large political groups will strike a deal, giving their support to the commission, to avoid embarrassing their member state governments. This will eclipse the protests of the smaller political groups, who still represent a large portion of Europeʼs citizens.
Some in the Parliament seem content to let this unsatisfactory situation remain, others demand change. SNP MEPs say the Parliament should have the power to reject or accept commissioners on an individual basis. It is claimed by some that the current situation is democracy in action, but real democracy implies the option of choice.
The Parliamentary Committee hearings of the new Commissioners exposed major concerns about the qualifications of some, and doubts about the suitability of certain nominees for particular portfolios. The most widely publicised is the commissioner designate for Justice, Freedom and Security, Mr. Rocco Buttiglione, who expressed strong views on homosexuality and women's rights. But we cannot vote against him without sacrificing the entire commission. Nor can we vote to remove László Kovács from the Energy post, even though he lacks detailed knowledge of energy issues. Also questionable is Ms Nellie Kroes for the post of Competition, who will have difficulties in being perceived as impartial in dealing with the corporations and sectors of business that she recently held a multitude of directorships within. And the commissioner designate for Taxation and Customs Union, Ms Ingrida Udre, whose political past has been questioned, and whose views on some tax harmonisation issues are unacceptable.
These unsuitable nominees have placed SNP MEPs in a position where we must vote against the whole Commission, and we will continue to press for change so that the Parliament can reject individuals who are unqualified.