New EU Commission faces parliamentary grilling

Proposed new commissioner for transport, energy, launches one week of hearings

A week of parliamentary hearings has got underway in which the 19 candidates due to join Romano Prodi in the revamped European Commission this autumn face questions from MEPs. As already reported by ENDS Daily, Margot Wallström, a Swede, is slated to take over as environment commissioner from Ritt Bjerregaard. But the work of several other new commissioners will also have an important bearing on EU environmental policy making.

First up to be grilled by MEPs yesterday was Spain's former agriculture minister, the politically right-of-centre Loyola de Palacio. Ms de Palacio will be a powerful figure in the Commission, as one of two vice presidents and due to be put in charge of both the transport and energy dossiers, formerly managed by Neil Kinnock of the UK and Christos Papoutsis of Greece. Austria's Franz Fischler, who retains the agriculture portfolio, was also put through his paces yesterday.

Despite three hours of discussion, little emerged about Ms de Palacio's likely policies on transport and energy, if she is approved, with MEPs seemingly more interested in her professional integrity and attitude to the European parliament. She said she favoured nuclear power as a way of reducing energy imports and cutting greenhouse gases, and that renewable energy sources required state support. In the transport field, Ms de Palacio supported the use of telematics and other technologies for reducing road congestion.

The hearings continued today, with proposed budget commissioner Michaele Schreyer, who would be the first ever Green to join the college. Also appearing today was the man who would replace Martin Bangemann in charge of industry matters: Erkki Liikanen, who was until now the budget commissioner.

Prospective environment commissioner, Swedish social democrat Margot Wallström, faces questions on Thursday evening. On Friday, the candidate to replace Emma Bonino in charge of consumer protection takes the stand. David Byrne, a former Irish attorney-general could also end up overseeing EU regulations on genetically modified organisms (ENDS Daily 9 August).

The hearings continue on Monday, with the Dutch candidate Fritz Bolkestein, who is due to take over the internal market dossier - including responsibility for tax - from Mario Monti. Mr Bolkestein has already told MEPs that he supports Mr Monti's proposals for EU minima on most energy products, but accepts that there is little chance of getting this accepted by all 15 member states.

MEPs will vote on whether or not to accept the new team when they meet in Strasbourg in three weeks' time.

Follow Up:
European Parliament, tel: +32 2 284 2111. References: The hearings can be followed live on the internet in six languages on Europe by Satellite EBS.

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