Enjoy your retirement, Leo Brincat
Bells rang, government statements swamped the airwaves and there was general rejoicing that the EU Council of Ministers had gone against the European Parliament vote and approved Leo Brincat as a member of the European Court of Auditors.
But before we all go hyper and slap each other on the back, it is worthwhile to go beyond Malta’s shores and explore a couple of other stories from previous ECA nominations. The European Parliament decided on Wednesday 13 April to issue an unfavourable, non-suspensive opinion on the Council’s proposal to appoint Polish national Janusz Wojciechowski to become a member of the European Court of Auditors. The EP says he does not have the qualities required for the post.
358 MEPs voted against the Polish candidate and 288 voted in his favour.
“For too long, appointments to the EU’s Court of Auditors have been treated as jobs for the boys. It is high time this ended. Given the crucial role of the court in ensuring budgetary transparency and highlighting problems with the EU budget’s implementation, it is essential to appoint members with both the requisite professional experience and no doubts about their independence and potential conflicts of interest. This was not the case with three of the six candidates proposed in this round of appointments to the court,” explained rapporteur Soltes, adding that “It is welcome that MEPs have today followed the
recommendation of parliament’s budgetary control committee to this end in voting to oppose the Polish candidate. Unfortunately, MEPs did not support the recommendation to oppose the Slovak candidate. We now expect the Polish candidate, Mr Wojciechowski, to live up to the commitment made in his declaration and withdraw his candidacy.”
The rejection came at a particular time. In a non-binding resolution approved in Strasbourg, the 28-nation EU Parliament had just said it “is seriously concerned that the effective paralysis of the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland poses a danger to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.” The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm in Brussels, started a probe in January of the Polish government’s democratic behaviour – making Poland the first country in the bloc to face such surveillance. The EU Parliament, a traditional champion of civil liberties, held a debate on the state of Polish democracy in the presence of a defiant prime minister a week later.
Then came the negative vote by the EP against the Polish candidate. Nevertheless, later in April, EU ministers meeting in Luxembourg approved Wojciechowski as a member of the European Court of Auditors. Some European Parliament deputies had questioned whether Wojciechowski, an MEP for Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party, would be an independent and objective member of the European Court of Auditors. Wojciechowski is a lawyer, judge and a former head of Poland’s central audit office.
Rapporteur Soltes said the decision was an affront to the European Parliament and its role in appointing people to the Luxembourgbased watchdog. He also accused Wojciechowski of having a conflict of interest, given his current role as vice-chair of the parliament’s agriculture committee. “He was responsible for deciding on the very budgets he will now be expected to audit,” said Soltes in a statement.
It was not the first time the EU Council has ignored the parliament on nominations for the Court of Auditors. In 2013, MEPs opposed the nomination of Neven Mates from Croatia. He had also said he would not take the post if MEPs rejected him. “In case of a negative opinion, it is quite likely that I would withdraw my candidacy, after careful consideration of all [the] objections,” Mates told MEPs in the budgetary control committee. However, he did not withdraw and went on to start his new job.
But, and this is where Mr Brincat should have looked at before yesterday, these two members of the ECA were left without any task to do and practically boycotted by the rest of the ECA, and not just the ECA board. Such an attitude makes a lot of sense. ECA cannot claim independence from political pressure and distance itself from any taint of corruption if it is to fulfil its role as an EU institution. Mr Brincat will now join these two on the, as it were, substitutes’ bench.
Happy retirement, Mr Brincat.