Extract from Today’s European Voice
Five nominees with questions to resolve at Commission hearings
Political alliances in the European Parliament will protect some nominees during confirmation hearings, and leave others at risk.
5) Karmenu Vella
Wrong country, right group, sensitive portfolio (environment and fisheries), wrong profile.
Hearing: Monday 29 September, 2.30pm
Vella will face two concerns during his hearing: discontent over the portfolio he has been given and discomfort over his political history in Malta. Juncker’s decision to merge environment and fisheries has not gone over well and Vella will face demands from MEPs on both the environment and fisheries committees to guarantee that he will not give their policy area short shrift. MEPs on the environment committee are concerned about the mandate letter sent by Juncker to Vella, which they see as prioritising an agenda of deregulation. Juncker’s request that Vella “carry out an in-depth evaluation of the birds and habitats directives and assess the potential for merging them into a more modern piece of legislation” is particularly sensitive because Malta has been in repeated and continued violation of these laws because of bird hunting. A group of the EU’s biggest environmental campaign groups wrote to Juncker last week and warned: “The environment portfolio has been given to a commissioner whose government is under intense international criticism for failing to implement EU bird conservation legislation, which the commissioner will now be in a position to amend.”
Vella may also face questions about his time as part of the Labour government of Dom Mintoff in the 1980s – a time of political turmoil in Malta. There have been allegations in the Maltese press against Vella of political thuggery, tax evasion and corruption. None of these allegations has been proven but Vella will probably face a few questions. In part, these allegations are the product of Malta’s brand of intensely tribal politics, but faith in Malta has been damaged by the loss from the last college of commissioners of John Dalli, the Maltese commissioner forced to resign during the last term over allegations of corruption.
On the other hand, it will count to Vella’s advantage that his government belongs to the S&D group. Neither the S&D nor the EPP is expected to pursue an aggressive line of questioning. But colourful anecdotes from Vella’s time in Maltese politics could be red meat for Eurosceptic MEPs, who could use the opportunity to attempt a resurrection of Dalligate. The European Conservatives and Reformists group would also have nothing to lose by going after a centre-left MEP. This would likely not translate to a majority voting against Vella’s nomination, and the numbers are still in his favour. But if questions over his political past cause Vella’s hearing to go off the rails, he may find support from the EPP and S&D groups is brittle.