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European Parliament’s theatre of politics

The European Parliament in Strasbourg

The European Parliament in Strasbourg

Every five years, the European Parliament gets an opportunity to show its muscle as it quizzes candidates for the next European Commission, the powerful body that enforces EU laws.

But rather than a forensic examination of the 26 nominees – the sort of in-the-spotlight inquisition the U.S. Senate puts presidential appointees through — the European Parliament has a tendency just to go through the motions. 

The relevant committees act tough, a range of questions from across the spectrum are thrown at the candidates, the nominees sweat a bit before trotting out safe, well-rehearsed answers, and at the end of three hours everyone says what a rigorous examination it has all been.

That said, this year’s hearings have thrown up one or two candidates parliament looks inclined to reject, meaning the complete line-up put forward by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso may have to be reshuffled or changed. Rejecting a candidate makes the parliament — which is keen to show its teeth — look tough. But at the end of the day it probably reveals more about the behind-the-scenes workings of the assembly, rather than its undying commitment to parliamentary democracy.

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