Civil society organisations and groups campaigning for a Europe of citizens are increasingly setting the agenda at Commissioner-designate hearings at the European Parliament this week.
Following intense lobbying by European Civic Forum (ECF), a body representing over 800 third sector organisations across Europe, the nominations of Rovana Plumb of Romania, and Hungary’s Lászkló Trócsányi have been rejected by Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee, which cited a conflict of interests.
This is an unprecedented move and a testimony to the growing strength and impact of civil society lobbying in Brussels.
In an open letter to Members of the European Parliament, organised by the European Civic Forum and signed by hundreds of organisations across Europe including the Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, the Hungarian Helsinki Committee and New Europeans, the campaigners said that:
“A former Hungarian Justice Minister who has contributed so much to dismantling the rule of law in Hungary cannot be given the responsibility to monitor the rule of law in accession and neighbouring countries.
Viktor Orban has now nominated Olivér Várhelyi, Hungary’s EU ambassador as his new commissioner-designate.
Spurred on by the successful rejection of the Hungarian and Romanian Commissioner-designates, there is growing grassroots pressure for further changes to the other nominees and to their portfolios.
The European Civic Forum letter reminded the European Parliament of its longstanding commitment to developing a new dialogue with citizens and civil society in accordance with Art.11 of the TEU and urged MEPs to evaluate the new commissioners and their missions accordingly.
“We are in a critical juncture with the EU” explained Jean-Marc Roirant, President of the ECF.
“This Commission and the newly elected Parliament must protect civic space as a priority and make sure the voices of civic associations and movements is heard in Europe alongside those of social partners and corporations”.
Raffaella Bolini, Vice-President of the ECF and a long-term activist with ARCI (the biggest non-profit association in Italy, not linked to the Catholic Church) said that “recognising our role, defending and protecting our space should be a key responsibility of the European institutions willing to uphold the European democratic project.”
Roger Casale, Vice-President of the European Civic Forum and Founder of New Europeans said :
“Today, the EU is not just a union of nations and states, of markets and money, it is also a union of citizens. The Commission needs to up its game and show that civil society actors can operate safely across the EU.”
In what are expected to be very tough hearings for Commissioner-designate Dubravka Šuica (Democracy and demography) and Věra Jourová (Values and transparency), campaigners are concerned about restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly.
The ECF is also calling for a new framework for organising an “open, transparent and regular framework of dialogue with civil society,” consistent with the provisions and the requirements of Article 11 of the Treaty on European Union.
The most critical words are reserved for the nomination of Margaritis Schinas, Commissioner in charge of “Protecting our European Way of Life.”
“This is a dangerous association that legitimizes far-right rhetoric and goes against the EU values of equality, solidarity and human dignity – these are the values that should be the foundation of the EU way of life!” said Jean-Marc Roirant.