The current European Commission's five-year term draws to a close and a new College of Commissioners will take up office for the five-year term 2009-2014.
However, before the new executive body of the European Union can take up its duties, it needs to receive the European Parliament's approval.
The primary purpose of the hearings is to prepare the way for the European Parliament's final vote of approval on the new Commission:
- The hearings provide an opportunity for the parliamentary committees to get insight into the personalities of the various Commissioners designate and to hold an extensive exchange of views on the priorities of the various Commissioners designate with regard to their respective areas of responsibility.
- In case of approval of the Commission, the hearings serve in this way to establish a working relationship between parliamentary committees and their Commissioners at the earliest possible moment.
- Finally they also serve as an initial benchmark for examining the subsequent performance of the Commissioner concerned.
Each Commissioner designate will be subject to a hearing with the parliamentary committee who's area of competence corresponds to the Commissioner's portfolio/policy area. Where a Commissioner's portfolio/policy area covers more than one committee's area of competence, all relevant parliamentary committees will be associated to the hearing in the "lead committee".
In preparation of the hearings, each Commissioner designate is required to respond to a written questionnaire drawn up by the relevant parliamentary committee(s).
Each hearing will last approximately three hours and consist of an opening statement by the nominee Commissioner followed by a question and answer session lasting just over two-and-a-half hours.
After each hearing, the relevant parliamentary committee will communicate its assessment to the President of the European Parliament in form of an evaluation letter in view of the vote of approval on the Commission as a whole.
Prior to the hearings, each Commissioner designate is requested to respond to a written questionnaire. The purpose of this exercise is to allow Parliament to examine the designate's personal qualifications and assess his/her broad policy approach and, as such, provide a basis for the oral phase of the hearings.
The questionnaires are composed of two parts: the "general" part consists of horizontal questions which are of relevance for all Commissioner designates; the "specific" part focuses on the particular portfolio of each Commissioner designate.