Neven Mimica, the commissioner-designate for development aid, delivered a competent hearing that was short on specifics, which at times gave rise to barely perceptible frustration among some of the MEPs.
But the Croatian nominee also refrained from making untenable promises – a temptation that must have been quite strong at times, as MEPs were trying to extract such promises and pull the nominee in all directions.
The MEPs, on the whole, probably did not require a great deal of convincing of Mimica’s competence, his grasp of the issues, his independence and his European convictions – the parameters on which nominees are supposed to be evaluated. Mimica, although a former deputy prime minister in the centre-left government of Zoran Milanovic, Croatia’s unpopular prime minister, is a technocrat rather than a political operator. But he is a relaxed and personable technocrat, which helped him during the hearing.
There were no tense exchanges, and an attempt by Bernd Lucke, from Germany’s eurosceptic AfD, to let Mimica trip over his own vagueness fell flat when Mimica provided the specifics that Lucke had demanded. Mimica’s relationship to Milanovic΄ is distant, something he conceded when campaigning for the European Parliament ahead of elections in May.
Moreover, nobody has ever accused Croatia of muscling its way into development policy. Cross off independence as a point of conflict in the coming five years. As someone who, as a diplomat and a minister (twice), worked primarily on issues of Croatia’s relationship with the EU, his European convictions also appear beyond reproach. This left MEPs with questions about policy, which more often than not took the form of whether Mimica would push one particular programme or policy dimension over another.
Mimica generally fought off such questions with some skill, without letting himself be pinned down on the specifics. Who could oppose more aid effectiveness, more policy coherence or more co-ordination with other policies and commissioners? Perhaps the most interesting – and deceptively simple – question was asked by Pedro Silva Pereira, a centre-left Portuguese.
“I would like to know what kind of commissioner are you going to be,” Silva Pereira asked. “It is vital that we have a commissioner who is politically strong and prepared to fight the fights that need to be fought within the Commission.” Mimica’s answer was straightforward: “I intend to be a political commissioner, not one that would just accept something that comes from the vice-presidents.”
Was this a first, and isolated, glimpse of a temperament that might be hiding underneath the smooth surface? And how will Jean-Claude Juncker react to Mimica’s assertion that there will be no hierarchy within the Juncker Commission, that co-ordination does not mean subordination? And why, if that is indeed the case, did Mimica mention instructions from vice-presidents?
Mimica came across as a nominee who is comfortable in his skin, comfortable speaking English, and comfortable confronting the questions that were asked of him. His quiet confidence might yet be sorely tested in his first confrontation with Federica Mogherini, the future foreign-policy chief, or indeed with Juncker. That, rather than the answers he gave in this hearing, will be the true measure of what kind of commissioner Mimica will be.
Click here for the live blog from the hearing – as it happened.
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