October 03, 2019
Goulard - after the grilling in the EP what next?
Emmanuel Macron's candidate for the European Commission is in trouble. Sylvie Goulard did not convince the MEPs yesterday at her hearing, she will have to continue answering questions. If this is not satisfying there could be a second hearing.
She comes with her own controversial past: an open investigation by the EU's anti-fraud institution Olaf over fake employment of Modem assistants and a €10,000 salary from an American think tank while she was MEP herself. All this did not go down well with parliamentarians. Only Renew MEPs backed her nomination, far from the two-thirds majority she needs.
There is a much broader political context to this revolt. Rejecting her is a way for MEPs to take revenge on Macron for his coup to kill the Spitzenkandidaten process. And after MEPs rejected candidates from the conservative EPP and the centre-left S&D on Monday over conflicts of interest, the liberal Renew party could not easily emerge unscathed from of this hearing process. All this was to be anticipated, but Goulard probably was not prepared for the intensity of those violent and relentless exchanges.
This hearing was hardly about her future plans as commissioner. Of the 25 questions that she had to answer during the three-hour hearing, 11 were about the fake employment of Modem assistants and her contract with a US think tank. She apologised for the latter but did not give in over the former.
Her competences and credibility were not questioned during the hearing. She has a long pro-European career behind her. But she also did not manage to take back the initiative in this exchange.
Goulard resigned as Macron's first defence minister in order not to compromise the new government and the military over the EP assistant affair. European institutions work differently. But as long as the investigations go on, will she really be in the position to lead a super-portfolio at the European Commission with three directorate generals to cover industrial, defence, space and digital policy? The German EPP MEP Christian Ehler delivered the killer argument saying that the portfolio is already too big for one commissioner, let alone one that could be compromised by legal difficulties.
Even if she gets confirmed, it is unlikely that she comes out with the whole portfolio. As a concession MEPs might want to take away from her some parts of it like defence or digital. Maybe that was part of Macron's strategic plan so that she could offer something in return for her confirmation.