U.S. trade pact in spotlight as new EU Commission faces grilling

Sun Sep 28, 2014 6:26pm EDT
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By Adrian Croft

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union's likely next trade chief will face tough questions about how she would handle free trade negotiations with the United States when confirmation hearings for the new European Commission open on Monday.

Sweden's Cecilia Malmstrom will be among the first group of nominees to former Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker's new European Commission to face scrutiny from the European Parliament.

Malmstrom will have to address concerns among consumer and environmental groups and others that the EU's plan to create the world's largest free trade area with the United States could undermine European standards on data privacy, food safety and the environment.

The public hearings, being held over the next nine days, could make or break a plan to reshape the 28-nation EU under new management in an attempt to revive the economy and regain trust among its half-billion people.

Nominees for posts on the EU's executive Commission, which both proposes EU laws and enforces compliance with them, will be subjected to three-hour hearings that could wreck the line-up proposed by Juncker.

The new team of 28 Commissioners, one for each EU country, includes five former prime ministers. It is scheduled to take over from the current team, led by Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso, for a five-year term starting Nov. 1.

Lawmakers are uneasy about several of Juncker's appointments and the nominees from Britain, France, Spain and Hungary are expected to undergo particularly tough cross-examination.

"We will make sure all the commissioners face a very demanding level of scrutiny," Gianni Pittella, leader of the center-left Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament, said in a statement.   Continued...

Jean-Claude Juncker, the incoming president of the European Commission (EC), presents the list of the European Commissioners and their jobs for the next five years, during a news conference at the EC headquarters in Brussels September 10, 2014.   REUTERS/Yves Herman