EU economy, tax nominees may face second grilling

By Reuters Staff
January 14, 2010

By John O’Donnell

BRUSSELS, Jan 14 (Reuters) – One of the European Union’s top lawmakers has said she may demand a second hearing to quiz the bloc’s designated tax and economics chiefs before the committee she leads decides whether to approve their appointments.

The remarks by Sharon Bowles, who leads the influential economic and monetary affairs committee, cast uncertainty over the line-up of the next European Commission, in particular the would-be tax chief, who has already faced criticism.

“I would have liked more questioning time with him,” Bowles said of Algirdas Semeta, the Lithuanian candidate to take charge of EU taxation whose answers at a European Parliament hearing were described by socialists as unconvincing.

Commenting on Finland’s Olli Rehn, the candidate to become the 27-country bloc’s economic and monetary affairs chief, Bowles said: “On many things he was strong and interesting. On other things we would have liked more information.”

Bowles said she may seek a second hearing with both. She signalled this was more likely for Semeta than Rehn, who is already an EU commissioner and has faced little criticism following his appearance before lawmakers to win their approval.

“I’m not going to say no to that. We might,” she said when asked if she would request a second hearing. “If you want us to do a good and worthy appraisal you have to give us the time.”

It is up to the parliament’s political groups to approve a second hearing. Doing so would delay an already protracted process, adding to pressure on European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to change the line-up of his executive.

Those political leaders are meeting to decide whether to approve the 27-strong EU executive — one commissioner for every country.

Others who have come under fire are Bulgarian Foreign Minister Rumiana Jeleva, who was rattled by parliamentarians questioning her about personal business interests and her ability to do the EU job of managing humanitarian aid.

Bowles praised Michel Barnier, the Frenchman due to take charge of a banking overhaul, for his performance at a sometimes boisterous parliamentary hearing on Wednesday.

“You heard everyone clap at the end,” she said. “I think that speaks for itself.” ((Contact John O’Donnell on +32 2 287 6817 or +32 473 92 48 90; john.odonnell@thomsonreuters.com))

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