Parliament voted on 7 October 2020 to approve changes to the European Commission following hearings of Mairead McGuinness and Valdis Dombrovskis a week earlier.
The plenary vote is the last stage in Parliament’s examination of the proposed changes to the Commission following the resignation of trade commissioner Phil Hogan at the end of August.
The economic and monetary affairs committee held a hearing with Mairead McGuinness (Ireland) on 2 October to evaluate whether she is suitable to serve as commissioner responsible for financial services, financial stability and the capital markets union.
McGuinness said the financial sector should play its part in building a more sustainable, digital and inclusive Europe. MEPs posed questions on how she plans to give new impetus to the completion of the capital markets union and the banking union, as well as on the next steps in fighting money laundering, ensuring fair taxation, supporting climate-friendly investments and lending to small businesses.
Valdis Dombrovskis (Latvia), Executive Vice-President of the Commission, now assumes responsibility for trade. He was invited to a hearing organised by the international trade committee.
MEPs wanted to know how EU trade policy will support climate goals and how Europe will deal with China, the US and the UK. “Europe needs to become more assertive,” Dombrovskis said, adding that any trade partners using unfair practises will be met with new counter-measures.
McGuinness has served as an MEP since 2004 and has been Parliament Vice-President since 2014. Valdis Dombrovskis, a former prime minister of Latvia, has been a Commission Vice-President since 2014.
The procedure in Parliament
Whenever a member of the European Commission needs to be replaced or there is significant reassignment of portfolios, Parliament invites the candidates for the new jobs to hearings so that MEPs can evaluate them.
The procedure is similar to the one for the election of the Commission at the start of each term. First, the legal affairs committee examines a candidate’s declaration of financial interests to confirm the absence of conflict of interests. This is a precondition for holding a hearing with the candidate.
The hearing is then organised by the committees dealing with the portfolio of each candidate. Before it starts, the candidate needs to answer some questions in writing. The hearing lasts three hours and is streamed live. After the hearing the responsible committee or committees prepare an evaluation letter.
The Conference of Committee Chairs, which includes all chairs of parliamentary committees, will then assess the outcome of the two hearings and forward its conclusions to the leaders of the political groups and the President of Parliament in the Conference of Presidents. The latter are responsible for the final evaluation and decision to close the hearings or request further action. Parliament can then proceed to the plenary vote.
Procedurally, the Parliament has a consultative role on individual candidates for commissioners, while it can approve or dismiss the European Commission as a whole. An agreement between Parliament and Commission requires the Commission president to consider the opinion of Parliament on individual candidates and changes in the composition of the Commission.
As always, when Parliament votes on individual candidates, votes are held by secret ballot. A simple majority of votes cast is required to establish Parliament’s position.