Members of the European Parliament, led by the Committee on International Trade, questioned Commissioner Cecilia Malmström (ALDE, Sweden) on her ability to serve as the EU’s 15th trade commissioner during a two-and-a-half hour hearing on Sept. 29.
Malmström, 46, currently holds the Commission’s Home Affairs portfolio, and is expected to begin her second term in the Commission on Nov. 1.
Before her first term in the Commission began in February 2010, she served in the Swedish government as the EU affairs minister from October 2006 to January 2010, and in Parliament from July 1999 to October 2006.
During the confirmation process, commissioners-designate are expected to respond to five written questions submitted by Parliament. Malmström’s questionnaire addressed a variety of trade-related issues, including planned legislative initiatives under the Juncker Commission and inter-institutional access to trade negotiation documents and procedures.
During her opening remarks, Malmström advocated for a system where all MEPs can access Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) negotiation documents that were formerly restricted to a small group of individuals; she stressed that further dissemination of trade documents outside of Parliament should be prevented.
Malmström said that she will ensure greater transparency in TTIP negotiations, and will publish a list of her meetings with trade negotiation stakeholders.
European trade policy should look beyond business goals and promote broad societal interests, according to Malmström, who said that the EU must be ambitious in trade negotiations to serve the interests of its citizens.
Likewise, the negotiations should be open and transparent to allow EU citizens and interest groups to express their views, and any future agreement must support environmental concerns, Malmström said.
MEPs across political spectrum voice concerns
Malmström faced tough questions from several MEPs, ranging from the regulatory implications of upcoming trade agreements to the controversial topics of investor and corporate relations.
In response to MEP Anne-Marie Mineur (GUE/NGL, Netherlands), Malmström emphasized that the EU would not lower standards, especially regarding health and the environment, to complete trade agreements like TTIP.
MEP Helmut Scholz (GUE/NGL, Germany) asked Malmström if she would be willing to revisit the recently concluded CETA agreement with Canada to remove language providing for Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
MEP David Martin (S&D, United Kingdom) referred to ISDS as a “toxic subject” that, if removed from negotiations, would facilitate the passage of trade deals through Parliament.
While many MEPs were concerned about specific features of trade negotiations and the effect that implemented trade agreements would have on EU citizens, the long-term impact of EU trade policy prompted a more adversarial tone from Parliament’s eurosceptic contingent.
In an attempt to gauge Malmström’s reaction to a hypothetical British exit from the EU during the new Commission term, MEP William Dartmouth (EFDD, UK) asked whether the EU would initiate a new EU-UK trade deal or start a trade war with the United Kingdom.
Malmström refused to contemplate the scenario, and instead characterized trade wars as un-European, much to Dartmouth’s irritation.