MEPs Call For Commissioner Hearings in Edinburgh, Cardiff & Belfast

15 September 2009
Plaid Cymru MEP for Wales Jill Evans has teamed up with Scottish SNP MEP Alyn Smith to issue a joint call for the UK candidate for European Commissioner to give evidence to the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament, prior to being confirmed as the UK nominee for the post.

The duo have written to Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and the heads of each of the European Committees of the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly, Northern Irish Assembly, and Houses of Commons and Lords European Scrutiny Committees.

The call comes as the European Parliament prepares to vote in Strasbourg tomorrow (Wednesday) on the re-appointment of Commission President Barroso, and begins the confirmation hearings of the EU Commissioners-Designate, the process whereby each Commissioner-Designate comes before the relevant committees of the Parliament to be grilled as to their suitability for the post. The Parliament will then vote on the final composition of the Commission, made up of 27 Commissioners appointed by each of the 27 Member States, in the late Autumn.

The UK Commissioner appointment is solely at the discretion of the Prime Minister in London, and it is this lack of oversight the MEPs seek to change. The MEPs have proposed that given the UK Commissioner, currently, speaks on behalf of the entire UK it is only fitting that the Scottish Parliament, Welsh and Northern Irish Assemblies should have a formal confirmation hearing prior to his or her nomination. Presently, the London Parliament also has no input to the appointment, and the MEPs also propose a hearing there.

The idea has the backing of the Vice Convener of the Holyrood European Committee Michael Matheson MSP.

Smith said:

"I'll be the first to acknowledge that most of my constituents probably think 'Barroso' is a trendy new wine bar, but while the appointment and confirmation process of the EU Commissioners might not be the talk of the steamie back home, it is important. The UK Commissioner will be the most senior UK representative in the European Commission and it is important that he or she is not just a crony of Gordon Brown. In Brussels we have a procession of confirmation hearings, but back home there is little scrutiny of who will take the UK's place in the Commission.

"Clearly, as an independent state Scotland will have a Commissioner in our own right. I have no doubt that the nominee will be a decision of the Scottish Parliament as a whole, the same way as a full vote at Holyrood appoints the Scots representatives in the Committee of the Regions. But we are where we are, and the archaic Westminster system means that the appointment for a five year term of the UK's voice in the Commission is left entirely to the Prime Minister of the day in London, and that just does not fit with where we need to be.

"This proposal would see the UK nominee go before the relevant committee in Holyrood, Cardiff, Belfast and, indeed, the London Parliament to shed a bit of democratic scrutiny on who this person is, why he or she has been appointed and what he or she seeks to achieve. It would be a real chance to ensure that the UK nominee has the confidence of all parts of the UK democracy."

Michael Matheson MSP added:

"This is a very welcome proposal, and certainly from Holyrood I have no doubt that we will enthusiastically meet with the person nominated to be the UK voice in the Commission, to sit alongside the Irish, Danish, Swedish and, indeed, Maltese and Estonian Commissioners. Scotland is not independent yet, so the UK Commissioner will, at least indirectly, represent our interests, so it is only fitting that whoever the person is should be there with the active consent of our Parliament in Edinburgh."