Monday, 11 January 2010

More Trouble Ahead For Brown?

First it was Blair for President of the European Council, then maybe David Miliband for High Representative then maybe Mandelson. The farce eventually concluded with frantic behind-doors negotiations resulting in the relatively unknown, unelected Baroness Ashton being appointed High Representative. According to Brown this appointment:
"gives Britain a powerful voice both within the European Council and the Commission,"
Well, the drama is not quite over yet.

Although Ashton has already made public appearances, she will only obtain full Commissioner status once she has been approved by the European Parliament, along with the other 26 nominated Commissioners. This process of holding hearings with the respective candidates begins today and lasts until 19th January.

Baroness Ashton's hearing is today at midday GMT and is keenly anticipated, not least because there are significant doubts in the EU regarding her limited experience in foreign affairs, which could hamper her efforts in trying to raise the EU's profile on the world stage. Doubts which have not helped by her less than impressive appearance in the EU Parliament last December, and critisim by the Trade Committee for floundering under questioning. There are also likely to be challenging questions regarding her written answers, which are required prior to the hearings:
My first priority will be to build the European External Action Service as an efficient and coherent service that will be the pride of the Union and the envy of the rest of the world.
According to the Lisbon Treaty, the High Representative must conduct the EU's common foreign and security policy, not build the External Action Service, which is seen as the duty of member states. Ashton will need a better grasp of detail in order to convince MEPs.

The vote is due on 26th, and in principle the EU Parliament can only vote 'yes' or 'no' on the entire line-up, not the individuals. In practice, though, approval is not a foregone conclusion and MEPs can force the Commission to rejig some of its nominations. This is precisely what happened in 2004 when Barroso had to withdraw his proposed team after a parliamentary committee rejected Italy's Rocco Buttiglione for describing homosexuality as a sin during his hearing.

If Ashton's performance is unconvincing today will MEPs try to prevent the appoint of her thus heaping more indignation on our beleaguered Prime Minister?

Another hearing to look out for this week is Michel Barnier, who oversees the internal market and financial services; an appointment that had resulted from the French outwitting the Prime Minster, giving them regulatory control over the City of London. His hearing is on Wednesday

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