Preliminary interviews have started for all commissioner candidates, and Paolo Gentiloni made no exception. From 30 September to 8 October the European Parliament will quiz all the people nominated for the role of next members of the European Commission, in public hearings to be held in Brussels. But MEPs already decided to put under scrutiny the 27 commissioner by sending them written questions to answer the day of the interview. Also the Italian name of the future EU executive body received the special document.
According to the official calendar agreed by the conference of the presidents, Gentiloni will be quizzed on Thursday, 3 October, from 9 am to 12 pm. A joint working session of the committee on Economic Affairs (ECON) and the committee on Employment and Social Affairs (EMPL) will be dedicated to see whether Gentiloni is in the position of being the next European Commissioner for Economy.
Do you know Economy?
The first question made by MEPs to the candidate is about his personal competence. Gentiloni was prime minister (12 December 2016 – 1 June 2018), minister of Foreign Affairs (31 October 2014 – 12 December 2016), minister of Communications (17 May 2006 – 8 May 2008), but, the MEPs asked, “what aspects of your personal qualifications and experience are particularly relevant for becoming Commissioner and promoting the European general interest, particularly in the area you would be responsible for?”. Translation: since he never had economic roles, does Gentiloni fit for purpose?
It is opinion of many people in Brussels that a politician who served as prime minister can have an important role within the European Commission, and the portfolio of Economy is indeed a relevant seat. The members of the two parliamentary committees, nevertheless, want to know “how will Gentiloni contribute to putting forward the strategic agenda of the Commission”. MEPs will pretend clear and convincing answers on this.
The independence issue and fiscal rules
It has already been said that Gentiloni won’t be totally free to do his job. According to the organization set up by the president elected Ursua von der Leyen, the Italian commissioner will be under Valdis Dombrovskis’ watch, as well as Timmermans’ and under the scrutiny of the whole college of commissioners. But this is not the concern of the MEPs, who want to be sure that once in office the Italian commissioner will forget about his country.
Gentiloni was already object of explicit requests, especially from its country of origin, for a revision of the European fiscal rules. Then comes the second question from the MEPs: “What guarantees of independence are you able to give the European Parliament, and how would you make sure that any past, current or future activities you carry out could not cast doubt on the performance of your duties within the Commission?” Gentiloni is basically asked to dismiss the Italian hat in order to wear only and exclusively EU hat. We can assume that this is what Gentiloni will reply on 3 October.
The committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs asked then about EU rules. “What is your stance on the application of the Stability and Growth Pact? (SGP)” This is a very tricky and key question, for both sides. There are those who would like more flexibility and those who would like more strict implementation of the existing legal framework. Here we can assume he will say that the intention is to give more space to public expenditure in respect of the existing rules, which means no revision whatsoever fo the SGP. This is also what von der Leyen herself said to the European Parliament, and there is no reason to doubt that Gentiloni won’t follow his president’s line.
Let’s talk about taxation
The committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs asked then about the priorities and the road map for an EU tax agenda. Here the answer is not very complicated. Von der Leyen has already a timeline in her mind, but of course most of the job must be done in the Council of the EU. If there is a delay, it is easy to guess that it will be because of the Member States.
Anyway, Gentiloni has time until 3 October to find the right answer to give the MEPs and convince the ECON and the EMPL committee to vote in favor. It seems not an impossible task.