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New EU Commissioners Face Tough Grilling in Parliament

The commissioners from the 10 countries joining the EU next month are being scrutinized this week in Strasbourg. All are expected to be confirmed, but parliamentarians haven't shied away from candidates' communist pasts.


Under the microscope: the European Union's 10 new commissioners

The three days of hearings before the European Parliament are largely ceremonial for the 10 new EU Commissioners, who are all expected to be sworn in early next month. But that hasn't stopped some parliamentarians from opening the line of questioning to include the political pasts of some new Commissioners.

Czech candidate, Pavel Telicka, was the first candidate to face such questioning before the parliament on Wednesday after the issue of his Communist past was raised by a British conservative member of the European Parliament (MEP), Caroline Jackson.

"I think we need to grapple with this," Jackson said, asking Telicka to explain when he joined the party and when he "saw the light, as it were."

"Right to make mistakes"

Telicka complied, explaining that he joined in 1988 when he was a lawyer working at the then-Czechoslovak ministry of foreign affairs. He quit the party after the collapse of Communism a year later.

"One has a right to make mistakes," he said. "What is also important is what comes afterward." He said he no longer belongs to any political party, adding that he believes in "individual freedom, private ownership, social security and solidarity, not just at (the EU) level."

During the hearing, Spanish Socialist MEP Manuel Medina Ortega criticized Jackson's questions, saying they were inappropriate. He said that the conservative block in the EU Parliament included Spanish MEP's who'd had ties to fascist regime of the late Spanish General Francisco Franco.

"Nobody has ever put questions of this kind to them about their political past," Ortega said, calling for "respect to be accorded to people who have had to live through very difficult circumstances."

Shadow role initially

The hearings began on Tuesday with candidates from Latvia, Hungary and Malta, and will conclude on Thursday with Estonian candidate, Siim Kallas, who may also face similar questions about his political record.

When the candidates take up their posts in May, they'll be without specific assignments for the first six months. Instead, they'll shadow existing members of the EU executive to get an introduction in European affairs.

The current 20-member European Commission's tenure expires in October, after which a new 25-member executive will be named. Most of the candidates from the new member countries are expected to get a full five-year term on the next European Commission.

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