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Ashton, other appointees to be cross-examined

Catherine Ashton and the 25 other appointees to the new European Commission will be grilled by EU lawmakers over the next week to see if they are up to the job. No individual can be shot down but the team can be voted against as a whole.


AFP - European deputies begin US-style confirmation hearings Monday to see whether the EU's new foreign affairs chief and would-be commissioners at the bloc's executive arm are up to the job.

In three-hour sessions starting at 1200 GMT, Catherine Ashton and the 25 other appointees to the new European Commission, the EU's unelected executive body, will be cross-examined by lawmakers over the next week.


The European parliament, the European Union's only popularly-elected body, wants to establish whether they are competent to carry out their tasks, but also independent and pro-European.

Ashton, a 53-year old British Labour peer, will be the face and voice of the EU abroad, and is the first to be grilled -- facing the assembly's foreign affairs committee in Brussels.

Others to be appraised Monday are Finland's Olli Rehn, who as nominee for the commission's economic and monetary affairs portfolio will help supervise policy on the euro single currency and ensure that budgetary rules are applied.

His hearing starts at 1530 GMT.

The commission is in charge of drawing up legislation that impacts on the lives of half a billion Europeans, as well as policing the existing rules. It had a budget of 116 billion euros (174 billion dollars) in 2008.

However many members of the parliament, bolstered by new powers from the Lisbon Treaty of reforms which entered force last month, are keen to flex their political muscle in public.

The assembly, which holds the hearings in Brussels until Friday and in Strasbourg next Monday and Tuesday, cannot reject any individual commissioner but can vote down the entire team at its plenary session on January 26.

Should it do so, commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, who has already been confirmed for a second five-year term, would be forced to seek a new candidate, or candidates, from the nations whose nominees are targeted.

No obvious skeletons have been dragged from any closets this time but the hearings could create some surprises.

But the parliament has already imposed its will in the past.

In 2004, the deputies rejected the candidature of Italy's Rocco Buttiglione, who had been in line to become the EU's top justice official but was considered inappropriate by them for his opposition to homosexuality.

Ashton -- the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security and also senior vice-president of the commission -- has been criticised for lacking diplomatic experience.

Other major hearings this week include Belgium's Karel De Gucht on Tuesday morning for trade commissioner and Spain's Joaquin Almunia for the powerful competition portfolio.

Frenchman Michel Barnier, a controversial appointee as internal market and financial services commissioner, faces the lawmakers on Wednesday.


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