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McCreevy shows early promise as Commissioner for Finance Back  
The EU's new Internal Market Commissioner Charlie McCreevy has signalled a let-up in new financial services legislation, reassuring Members of the European Parliament that he would take account of the legislative 'fatigue' experienced by the sector. Fiona Murray reports on the Commissioner's early days in his new Brussels post.
At his confirmation hearing before Members of the European Parliament incoming European Internal Markets Commissioner Charlie McCreevy reassured the Parliament that he would take account of the legislative ‘fatigue’ experienced by the sector, following the near-completion of the EU Financial Services Action Plan (FSAP). He said that the focus would be primarily on implementation and enforcement of those FSAP measures already agreed.
Charlie McCreevy in Brussels

He added, however, ‘some specific proposals (for legislation) may still be necessary’ and indicated certain sectors as requiring closer attention, including asset management, clearing and settlement and retail financial services. Also important, McCreevy said, was the need to deepen international cooperation on financial services, citing the current regulatory dialogue with the United States as a means of avoiding conflict and resolving current issues. To this end, he fully expected to develop international financial relations with other parts of the world, including Japan, China and India.

Unlike his other compatriots, McCreevy had comparatively little to fear at his hearing. Basking in the glow of a successful Irish Presidency of the EU Council – during the first half of this year – and more particularly as President of ECOFIN, McCreevy’s performance was described as ‘spirited’ by a Parliamentary spokesman.

Addressing Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, McCreevy answered questions from Members of the European Parliament on the diverse range of subjects falling within his remit, which, besides financial services, also includes intellectual property and corporate governance. Injecting some humour into the sometimes heavy proceedings, he joked that his own political party would not be ‘stupid enough’ to make him a candidate for the Irish premiership.

The latter remark was in response to a question about McCreevy’s commitment to the Brussels job. He stressed his personal long-standing support for the EU, stating that he had campaigned in favour of every EU-related referendum in Ireland since 1972. He underlined his commitment to the internal market programmes, citing Ireland’s economic success as a direct result of its access to the internal market.

All in all, although not officially on the starting block now until December, the new Irish Commissioner could not have wished for a smoother beginning. However, during his five year tenure in the Commission, McCreevy won’t always be able to count on such uniform backing. The internal market and financial services portfolios have traditionally been among the most challenging and the Irish Commissioner will need to draw on all his experience in order to meet often conflicting interests but also remain firm in the face of opposition.

New European Commission
In August, the President designate of the European Commission, Portuguese Jos? Manuel Barroso, presented the remaining 24 nominee commissioners. Although the position of European commissioner is neutral in theory, the allocation of the portfolios to the new commissioners by the Commission president has always been hotly contested among Member States. Member States horse-trade for the ‘sexiest’ portfolios or the ‘consolation prize’ of a vice-president post for its nominee commissioner in return for a more mundane post. With enlargement, the number of commissioners has increased from 20 to 25. The various portfolios have had to be restructured and divided out more thinly to each commissioner. The result has been an even more fiercely fought battle for the most prestigious positions.

For the commission president it has always been a difficult challenge to satisfy the Member States and the European Parliament in matching commissioner to dossier. For example, this time around, the decision to give the EU transport portfolio to Frenchman Jacques Barrot was widely perceived as further evidence of France’s declining influence in Europe. Nevertheless, French pride was felt to be assuaged somewhat by the granting of one of the five vice president posts to Barrot. By contrast, McCreevy’s appointment as commissioner for the internal market and financial services was regarded as quite a coup for Ireland, one of the smaller Member States.

An enlarged Commission of 25 gave president Barroso the opportunity to reorganise the portfolios allotted to each of the new commissioners. This included splitting current portfolios, including internal market (and financial services) and taxation. At present, commissioner Frits Bolkestein’s portfolio covers both internal market and taxation. Under the new Commission, his tasks will go to two commissioners (internal market to Charley McCreevy and taxation to the Hungarian commissioner designate Laszlo Kovacs). The decision to separate internal market and taxation into two portfolios is also a reflection of the increasing workload of the Commission in these sectors. This division will give both new commissioners the scope to deepen their work in their respective areas.

European Parliament hearing
Before the new European Commission can officially take office, it has to be approved by the European Parliament. The process involves hearings of each of the Commissioners by specialised committees within the Parliament. This is followed by a Parliamentary vote on the College of Commissioners as a whole.
Until recently, Parliamentary approval of the new Commission was considered to be a formality. However, since the rejection of the Commission, headed by President Jacques Santer, in 1999, the individual hearings of nominee Commissioners have tended to be rather more rigorous, sometimes verging on the hostile. The Commissioners designate have learned not to expect an easy ride, and this time around has been no exception.

During these latest confirmation hearings, Parliament’s Committee on Citizens’ Rights voted against the nomination of the Italian Rocco Buttiglione, taking the view that his moral and religious beliefs on issues such as homosexuality were incompatible with his proposed candidature as EU Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner. Other candidates, such as the Netherlands’ Neelie Kroes (Competition Commissioner designate) and the Hungarian Laszlo Kovacs (nominee Energy Commissioner) also came under heavy criticism.

The unpopularity of Buttiglione led to the unprecedented decision by Commission President Barroso to withdraw the proposed Commission rather than face the humiliation of an outright rejection from the Parliament. It also meant that the new Commission had to postpone for some weeks the date on which it would take office. Buttgilione has since been dropped from the Commission, and has been replaced by Franco Frattini. Unpopular Latvian nominee Ingrida Udre has also been replaced by her proposed chief of staff, Andris Piebalgs. He will take over Kovacs’ energy portfolio, and Kovacs has been moved to taxation.

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