Timmermans welcomed by EP Presidents

Dutch nominee focused on European values, better regulation and less red tape

By Dods EU monitoring

09 Oct 2014

Please note that this does not constitute a formal record of the proceedings of the meeting. It is dependent on interpretation and acts as an unofficial summary of the debate.

On October 7 2014, the European Parliament Conference of Presidents held a hearing with Commission Vice-President-designate Frans Timmermans who would be responsible for Better Regulation, Inter-Institutional Relations, Rule of Law and Charter of Fundamental Rights. The MEPs were for the most part very warm in their reception of the perspective Commissioner. Timmermans received applause after several of his answers. Several MEPS also congratulated him on his opening speech in which he often touched upon European History as the foundation of the EU. He also impressed the MEPS by his extensive linguistic knowledge, answering questions in Dutch, English, German, French and Italian.

He emphasised the importance of protecting the European values and defending fundamental human rights. He plans to promote an interinstitutional agreement on a mandatory lobby register and ensure that impact assessments are carried out throughout the legislative process, instead of having them only at the beginning. He also called for a better cooperation between the European Parliament and National Parliaments, more attention from the Commission to European citizens` initiatives and a reduction in red tape for SMEs.

The Committee now has 24 hours to finalise its evaluation although further information can be asked of the Commissioner-designate in writing.  

Martin Schulz (S&D, DE) welcomed everyone and explained the proceedings of the debate.

Frans Timmermans, Commission Vice-President-designate stated that the Juncker Commission would be the first Commission truly and entirely born in the European Parliament. If confirmed, 5 years of cooperation and real political dialogue will start. He said that 2014 is a special year for Europe, referring to the anniversary of the First World War. 70 Years ago, the beginning of the liberation of Western Europe began, he stated, and the idea of “Only if my neighbour shares my faith, will I be able to live and prosper in peace and security” was open to all the EU only since 25 years ago. In this context, he referred to the fall of the Iron Curtain and Havel who said that only then east and west could become geographical qualifications rather than political or moral categories.

Looking back at the past 25 years, he is amazed by the level of transformation of the EU. He argued that it is important to point out these historical facts as they are often overlooked when focusing on European shortcomings. Europe has been capable of transforming whole societies, maintaining the currency and defying the doomsayers despite the worst crisis since the 1930s years. Nevertheless, costs have been high for citizens who ended up with less social protection than expected. He said that Europe will be put to the test because of global challenges. He said that it is the EU’s duty to make sure that its instruments are used in a better way to fulfil citizens’ expectations. He will support Juncker in making his agenda successful.

The EU and its institutions are not self-serving but have to serve the citizens. The EU should do what it can do better than Member States and Member States should do what they can do better than the EU, he said. He stated that the Commission should no longer be doing the things that are perhaps nice to do but should focus on the things it needs to do, as outlined in Juncker’s guidelines. Better regulation and focusing on strengthening interinstitutional relations are necessary to do better things and do things better. He suggested starting off with a dialogue on the shared political priorities.

He said that if confirmed, he would propose a list of pending proposals that should be withdrawn after consulting the European Parliament. Moreover, he would present a better regulation review and by the end of next year conclude an interinstitutional agreement on better law making. If this is done in a right way, he is convinced a thorough political debate can be held on multiannual programming between the institutions.

In addition, he said he will improve the impact assessment system and encourage the Council to follow the Parliament’s lead to make sure that the impacts of proposals are not only assessed by the Commission at the beginning of the procedure. Changes to draft legislation also have to be taken into account. In addition, he said that the impact assessment board also needs to have people that can act independently and bring experience; he will express his view on the quality of the assessments. He added that the dialogue with national parliaments has to be strengthened. When there is a yellow or orange card, the Commission should give a motivated reply. He said that Commissioners should engage more directly in dialogues with national parliaments. If confirmed, he said, he will encourage colleagues to take the discussion directly to national parliaments and provide justified replies. Better shared understanding amongst all of the real political meaning of subsidiarity will help the Commission avoid prepare unnecessary proposals.

The European Union is a community of nations and citizens that have come closer to each other, he stated. He believes that the EU can only be strong if the Member States are strong. The strength of the Member States depends on the strength of the Union. It is only together the EU can make an impact on global issues such as climate change and terrorism. States and citizens are the two essential constituents of the EU. He argued that it is in the nature of a political body to pay attention to new initiatives than to evaluation of existing legislation, but this will need to be changed. One has to better listen to the EU citizens and businesses. The EU has to be brutally honest on what does not work. One must be ready to make changes where necessary. He stated that more transparency is needed in the EU bubble; therefore he wants to promote an interinstitutional agreement on a mandatory lobby register.

Furthermore, he argued that unnecessary red tape needs to be reduced, especially for SMEs, the EU has to make it easier to start a business. He said that administrative burdens, duplications and outdated legislation have to be removed. He argued this will fail if it is an attack on social rights. He said he is not ideological but practical. He will support his colleagues regarding what works and speak against what does not. He explained that to a vast majority of the constituents, the institutions are just seen as Brussels. He warned that pointing the finger at other institutions will not help. Change is needed and one only succeeds if the EU sticks to its values and principles. Consistency is necessary. Failure by one affects the credibility of all, he said.

He then moved on to the topic of human rights and said he will work to protect fundamental rights. Everyone serves the promotion of the same fundamental rights. There is an urgent need for greater political engagement. He announced that he will organise an annual colloquium on the state of play of fundamental rights in Europe. He underlined the importance of fundamental rights that protect Europeans, better laws for Europeans and a Commission that serves Europeans. The change proposed by Juncker is essential, he stated. He said that if one looks at the unthinkable challenge of people`s parents and grandparents overcame, one knows Europe has seen far worse. The EU owns it to this built structure. There is the collective duty to take care of this Europe. Moreover, the fact that it is difficult gives the opportunity to show what the EU is made of. “Let us get Europe back on track for a brighter future”, he said.

Esteban Gonzalez Pons (EPP, ES) stated that his group shares the values that were mentioned in his speech. The EU Member States share commitment to protect a series of rights and freedoms. Equality and solidarity make up a hard core which Europeans cannot renounce. The EU has to act, and all the resources available to use have to be brought within the state of law, in the area of state and justice. He referred to Syria and Iraq where there are many Europeans practicing terrorism. They might come back to Europe. He asked Timmermans how he will defend and protect Europeans against terrorism.

Frans Timmermans replied that this problem is one of the most difficult issues the EU and the Member States have to face today. He referred to European young people who are enticed to go and fight in other countries the values that are cherished by Europeans. He said that it goes without saying that societies have the full right to protect themselves against this terrorism. One has to make sure it has answers to this threat. This is a primary responsibility of the Member States, he said, but as far as the EU is concerned, fighting terrorism cannot allow the EU to disregard fundamental rights. One should not limit the fundamental rights that are applicable to all citizens. When fighting terrorism, one needs to make sure that every single EU institution and Member State adheres to the principles enshrined in the Charter of fundamental rights and the Treaty of the EU.

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