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European Parliament hearing new Commissioners

On 1 January 2007, the European Union will have two new members, Bulgaria and Romania. Like the old member states, the new members will be entitled to one Commissioner each. The appointment process has not been without turbulence so far: the original candidate from Romania had to withdraw, not having the backing of the President Barroso. The Commission as a whole has to win the approval of the European Parliament, and for this purpose, a hearing of the two designated Commissioners, Ms Meglena Kuneva (Bulgaria) and Mr Leonard Orban (Romania), was conducted on 27 November. Meglena Kuneva is scheduled to be responsible for consumer protection, while the dossier of Leonard Orban is to be intercultural dialogue and multilingualism, which is so far one of the responsibilities of Jan Figel, the Commissioner in charge of education. The solution to allocate to the new Commissioners portfolios of their own (though small) differs from the approach taken in the last extension round, when ‘Commissioner stagiaires’ were introduced, to act in tandem with colleagues already in charge of their dossier.

With a view to the focus of the ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, the hearing of Leonard Orban was of particular interest. Parliamentarians delved deep into the issue of multilingualism, one of the Union’s pet themes. Predictably, the Commissioner-designate underlined the importance of his portfolio, inclusive of the issue of minority languages. Questions ranged from skepticism over the cost of multilingualism inside the EU institutions – the Union employs about 3 400 translators and interpreters – to the protection of the language of the Sami people in northern Finland. A German MEP stressed the need for gender sensitive language use, complaining about formulations like “Mme le secrétaire general”. It appears that this was one of the Parliament’s finest hours, where no stone remained unturned.

The European Parliament will take its official vote on the candidates in December. It is expected that its vote will be positive. The Commissioners will then be appointed by the Council. Like those of their colleagues of older standing, their mandate will come to an end in October 2009. European Parliament: Romanian, Bulgarian Commissioners designate pass first hurdle in EP