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The Casting Call Edition

3 October 2019

1. Story of the Week

What Happened?

It's a new season for the EU and Brussels Brief is back to report on the casting of the major characters. The European Parliament this week began its grilling all of the potential members of the College of Commissioners as announced by Commission President elect Ursula von der Leyen in early September. However, two of the Commissioner-designate did not even make it to the casting stage. Hungary's Laszlo Trocsanyi’s candidacy was culled and Romanian contender Rovina Plumb was duly quashed in a double whammy by the EP's JURI committee. The charge? A finding of conflict of interest following an examination of their respective declaration of interests. Other than those the rest of the 24 commissioners in the hotseat (UK did not propose one) started to go through the process that is as exciting as the trial of OJ Simpson for those in the Brussels bubble as it is watching paint dry for those outside. So far the stars include returning champion Irishman Phil Hogan, Mariya Gabriel and Maroš Šefčovič who sailed through their hearings. Rookie nominee for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen took a bit of a beating for the fallback surrounding her development profile and Polish nominee Janusz Wojciechowski showed a lack of knowledge which some MEPs described as ''vague'' However the biggest protagonist so far was former MEP Sylvie Goulard. MEPs did not let go of the fact that she is being investigated for misuse of funds and other dealings that forced her to resign as French minister for the Armed Forces after just two months in office.

Why it matters

The star-studded casting has already had its twist and turns even before they began with von der Leyen already asking for two new Commissioners from Romania and Hungary, to which both have already obliged. The spectacular takedown of Sylvie Goulard yesterday by various MEPs for her alleged improprieties was impressive, not only because she is Macron's candidate being criticised here, but because the MEPs rightly asserted loudly and publicly that what is not acceptable for national politics should not be acceptable for European politics. Nonetheless, the best is yet to come as former Chief Spokesman for the Juncker Commission and Greek Commissioner-designate, Margaritis Schinas, steps up to defend the controversial and much-derided 'Protecting our European way of Life" portfolio. Also, the gaffe-prone Spanish foreign minister and former President of the European Parliament, Josep Borrell, has some of his own skeletons in the closet. These hearings, however procedural, will be the chance to showcase the best of the EU and von der Leyen will want her team to showcase her plan to its greatest degree hoping that will overcome the initial disappointment surrounding her nomination as European Commission President. No mean feat.

The takeaway

Those EU enthusiasts with memories longer than goldfish know that Commissioner hearings have always had some drama and most of the time the candidates leave unscathed. But some of these hearings this time around have felt different. The bad taste in the European Parliament from the whole circumventing of the spitzenkandidat system is apparent. But perhaps most important is that some of the more high-profile candidates like Sylvie Goulard and Didier Reynders are under currently under investigation and others like Josep Borrell, although experienced, will inevitably be seen as the EU of 'has-beens' rather than the fresh rejuvenated face the European Commission should be presenting to the world. To be fair, accusations of corruption and impropriety towards political figures are part and parcel of the job and bad faith rivals will try to tarnish any EU commissioner, no matter how clean their record. Nonetheless, considering that it is such a seminal and existential moment for the future of the EU, wouldn't this warrant a stricter casting than usual? Presumption of innocence, yes, but if it smells why buy the fish? The European Parliament will be remiss to not take the opportunity this time around to be the guardian, maybe not of the treaties, but of EU public relations for which it was elected to ensure.

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week

43.2

The European median age. It will be 15 years before the Millennials and Generation Z will make up most of the population in Europe. But, according to historian Niall Ferguson and Joseph de Beck, Europe's millennials are not the fountain of political ''wokeness'' as they are in the US. Rather millennials in Europe are partly responsible for the increased popularity among the right-wing bad boys of European politics, France's National Rally (see Jordan Bardella MEP), Germany's AfD and Poland's Law and Justice all count Millennials and sometimes Gen Z in their ranks.

25

The percentage of EU staff that are translators according to EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn. However, even though all of the EU's business is translated in 24 official languages, the working language in the institutions in Brussels is largely becoming English. A "global English" according to French journalist and Gallic warrior Jean Quatremer who laments the gradual diminishing of French, traditionally associated with the EU. Sacre blue?!

900

Roughly the numbers of young (and sometimes not-so-young) people starting a 5-month bluebook trainee programme in the European Commission. Admission is notoriously convoluted and according to the Commission’s own website, the success rate is only 3.9% for applicants in administrative roles (and even lower for those in translation). Of course, any newcomer to Brussels, regardless of age or profession, should check out the brand new edition of our EU Trainee Bible to ensure a successful and enjoyable stay. Read here and download here.

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4. Quotes of the Week

“At least we could have watched the Speaker being forced to eat a kangaroo testicle”

In an on-brand yet low energy performance, Boris Johnson targeted the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow (the "Orderrr" guy) in comparing the Brexit impasse to a British reality TV show where celebrities are stuck in the jungle. His remarks at the Conservative Party Conference had the backdrop of a leaked Brexit proposal for the Irish border, a so-called 'final offer' from the UK Primer Minister to the EU, the formal version to which Michel Barnier tepidly responded "there is progress" but the Taoiseach is not so impressed and Juncker is telling it like it is. FYI, Brexit is 'supposedly' 28 days away.

"Debate, dissent, arguments - all of that is necessary and is healthy"

The wise words of Christine Lagarde, prospective President of the European Central Bank. The remarks against the dangers of groupthink come in the context of recent disagreement in the leadership team on recent policies implemented by outgoing President Mario Draghi including money printing, zeroing interest rates and asking governments to foot some of the bills of the lagging eurozone.

“We also have a woman if this is required”

The bizarre comments by Romanian Prime Minister Viorica Dăncilă when she named the replacement for failed Commissioner Rovana Plumb. The replacement is Dan Nica an MEP who identifies as a man but the Prime Minister has countenanced for Ursula von der Leyen's push for a gender-equal Commission by providing a backup candidate, Gabriela Ciot, who identifies as a woman. FYI to the Prime Minister, women in positions of power are always needed, if not requried.

5. Video of the Week

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