The following are excerpts from the transcript of the hearing of Frans Timmermans, Commission Vice-President Designate, at the European Parliament on 7 October 2014.
The portfolio assigned to Mr. Timmermans included the relationship to civil society, in particular the handling of European Citizens’ Initiatives. Given that the outgoing Barroso Commission, on one of its very last days in office, had given a very disappointing reply to ONE OF US, the most successful ECI so far, stating that it had no intention to take any steps in order to implement what nearly 2 million citizens had been asking for, it was clear that MEPs were going to inquire whether the incoming Commission would be willing to re-consider that position.
The charge was lead by MEP Kazimierz Ujazdowski from Poland:
(transl.: “I have two questions. You spoke about good legislation. Can you give examples of laws that you think should be repealed, given that they harm entrepreneurship and the economic development of Europe?
The second issue concerns the European citizens’ initiative. You spoke about this in very favorable terms, but in fact the most successful of these initiatives, brought forward by an organization called ONE OF US, which had collected 2 million signatures to defend a fundamental right, namely the protection of life, was rejected by the European Commission. You said that the Commission should not adopt a position of dry legalism, and show respect to every citizens’ initiative. I would therefore ask you whether this means you will treat such initiatives in a more friendly and open manner?”)
This is what the Commissioner Designate said in reply:
This response caused some consternation among those MEPs who find that citizens’ initiatives deserve to be treated respectfully. Did the future Commission Vice-President intend to say that the Commission had been, for whatever reason, obliged to reject ONE OF US??? Or was he saying that the Commission has the right to reject successful citizens’ initiatives for no other reason than that it does not like what is being proposed?
MEP Branislav Škripek from Slovakia asked a follow-up question:
Now this second reply was even worse than the first one had been. Timmermans claimed that ONE OF US had asked for something that, falling outside the remit of the EU’s competences, was not a possible subject matter for an ECI, and that for this reason the Commission had been obliged to reject it on formal grounds.
This is complete nonsense. ONE OF US had in fact submitted an elaborate legislative proposal that had been examined by the Commission’s services prior to the registration of the ECI in May 2012. There never had been a rejection on formal grounds, as there was no reason for such rejection. Mr. Timmermans response was thus simply and purely false.
Now it must of course be assumed that Mr. Timmermans had no intention to give a false response – in particular not a response that was as obviously false as this one. After all, this was a hearing in which he had to demonstrate his aptitude for the job he had been designated for. Most probably, therefore, his mistake could be explained that the briefing he had received from his staff had contained false information, or that he had not read it carefully. After all, it is true that several proposed ECIs had indeed been rejected on formal grounds, including, just a few days before the hearing, an intitiative asking the Commission to call off negotiations on a free trade agreement with the US. That decision had caused some media attention, so maybe Mr. Timmermans was simply mixing things up.
Not having obtained any further speaking slot during the hearing to follow up on Mr. Timmerman’s wrong reply, MEP Branislav Škripek wrote a letter to Mr. Timmermans, explaining him that in fact ONE OF US had not been rejected on formal grounds, and inviting him to give some further consideration to the issue.
This is what Mr. Timmermans writes as a reply:
It is certainly good that the Vice-President finally seems to be aware that indeed there is a Union competence for the measures that ONE OF US is proposing, and that the initiative had been declared admissible.
Nevertheless, this is not an appropriate reply. There is no need for Mr. Timmermans to “clarify” anything to Mr. Škripek, because in fact Mr.Škripek had himself provided those clarifications to Mr. Timmermans.
The correct reply to Mr. Škripek’s letter would have been along the following lines:
I would like to thank you foryour letter and for the helpful clarifications it contains. I sincerely regret that my reply to the question you asked during the hearing was false, and I wish to apologize for this. I had no intention to give a false reply and misinform the Parliament, but it seems that either I or the Commission staff who prepared my briefing must have made a mistake.
Of course I will consider the matter once again and look for ways in which the proposals made by ONE OF US can be accomodated.
Why has Vice-President Timmermans not replied in this way? Does he not know the difference between “clarification” and “rectification”? Does he not have the style and courage to apologize where an apology is needed? Or does he think that he can get away with this?
Very clearly, Mr. Timmermans’ reply betrays that, despite his assertions during the hearing, he has no great respect for citizens, or for citizens’ initiatives. And very clearly, the human rights of unborn children who are not, and never will be, his voters, are of no interest to him.
Maybe that is the reason why so many Europeans are so tired of the caste of mandarins that is governing them…