[lg policy] Cypriot commissioner-designate opts for honesty in setting out her role in educational and cultural policy.

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 19 16:15:43 UTC 2010

Vassiliou takes a modest line
By Toby Vogel
15.01.2010 / 10:00 CET

Cypriot commissioner-designate opts for honesty in setting out her
role in educational and cultural policy.

To members of the European Parliament, the nomination hearing of
Cyprus's European commissioner-designate, Androulla Vassiliou, was
clearly not an affair of high drama or high stakes. MEPs on the
culture and education committee and the associated employment and
social affairs committee trundled in late and drifted in and out of
the hearing. After the first two hours, MEPs seemed to be running out
of questions to ask. Several of them left the room just minutes after
it was their turn to speak. This was not a clash of political
philosophies or policy prescriptions, and it was most certainly not a
clash of personalities.

The Commission holds very limited responsibilities in the areas that
are part of Vassiliou's portfolio – education, culture,
multilingualism and youth – and that was reflected in the rather empty
rows reserved for diplomats and reporters. Vassiliou dealt with that
limitation humbly; instead of making grandiose but empty statements,
she answered the questions put to her with a great deal of pragmatism.
 Pál Schmitt, a Hungarian in the Parliament's centre-right European
People's Party, wanted to know what the Cypriot commissioner-designate
would do about a new law in Slovakia that curbs the linguistic rights
of the country's Hungarian minority. He said that he was “happy” with
Vassiliou's response – modest and honest – that the best she could do
was to closely follow implementation of the law, since language policy
essentially falls to the member states.

That modesty served Vassiliou, a commissioner since February 2008,
well at other points in the hearing as well, although László Tökés, an
ethnic Hungarian from Romania representing the EPP, managed to
rephrase the question about Hungarian minorities for at least the
fourth time at the very end of the hearing. Marek Migalski, a Polish
member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), wanted to
know whether citizens from countries outside the Union, especially
from the former Soviet Union, would be able to participate in
programmes targeting youth. Migalski was unhappy with her reply that
she would do her best to ensure that that would be the case, and he
asked for a commitment that funding for these programmes would be
increased. Vassiliou gave the only reasonable answer – that she was
able only to commit to things that were under her control.

Vassiliou was less successful in countering accusations by Morten
Messerschmidt, a Dane from the Eurosceptic group Europe of Freedom and
Democracy (EFD), that the Commission's funding for culture projects
had in the past been used on silly projects that were a “waste of
money”. Messerschmidt suggested using such funds to build up a
European identity instead. Vassiliou responded by pointing to the
European heritage label, saying that it would give “a great sense of
belonging to our people” – not a prediction that many MEPs would want
to bet money on. Her assertion that the higher-education reforms under
the Bologna process have been “largely successful” is likewise going
to meet some scepticism.

The Lisbon treaty for the first time hands the EU some responsibility
for sports policy. Vassiliou, although she mentioned the topic,
appeared to be rather detached from it. When asked whether she was a
sports fan, she said: “I'm a good swimmer, coming from an island.”


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