From 23 to 26 May, 200 million citizens from 28 EU Member States voted and elected MEPs, giving them a strong democratic mandate to carry out their duties and to select a new European Commission. Before the new Commission, the EU's executive body, takes up its duties, Parliament holds public hearings and assesses the qualifications of the Commissioner for the job.
HEARING FUNCTIONING PROCEDURE
When the Council approves the final list of Commissioner-designate candidates, the new Commission President discovers her new team, the College of Commissioners, as well as the division of the portfolio. Before taking up the post of Commissioner-designate, Parliament holds hearings with them and examines whether their skills and qualifications match the proposed positions.
Each candidate is invited to a three-hour hearing in front of the parliamentary committees responsible for the portfolio assigned to them, and the hearings are broadcast live. Following the hearing, the responsible committees prepare their assessment of the candidates' competences, which is finalized by the Conference of Presidents (Presidents of the Caucuses and the President of Parliament).
The hearings of the members of the Commissioner before the committees of the European Parliament are a necessary ingredient in informing Parliament's decision, either giving its consent to the proposed course or they may reject it. Each Commissioner-designate appears before a single debate, involving one or more parliamentary committees, after answering a written questionnaire and presenting his declaration of interest. In past discussions, the main criticisms have been the lack of specialist knowledge of the candidates about their portfolio, their vague answers and reluctance to commit, the existence of possible conflicts of interest with respect to the assigned portfolio, and concerns about the candidate's integrity. Since 2004, Parliament has used its role in appointing the Commission to press for the replacement of certain controversial candidates and to make adjustments to certain portfolios, though this may be rejected or accepted by the College as a whole. If some experts warn of the over-politicization of hearings, others welcome the Commission's increased responsibility to parliament and see a deepening political link between them as a step towards further democratization of the EU decision-making process. The hearings have become crucial for Parliament to take over the Commission and are gaining importance as a way for Parliament to take a greater role in the agenda at EU level. When the hearings are over, Parliament approves the entire College of Commissioners before it takes office.
In July, lawmakers selected Ursula von der Leyen as the new president of the European Commission, and in late September and October will examine the competencies and capabilities of the proposed commissioners, a team that has assembled the new president over the summer based on nominations from member states. Gender balance was one of her priorities when putting together a team.