En­joy your re­tire­ment, Leo Brin­cat

Malta Independent - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS -

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

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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.

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