The E.U.’s current Commissioner for Home Affairs, Cecilia Malmström, was confirmed this morning as Commissioner for Trade during a vote in the International Trade (INTA) Committee of the European Parliament. This vote follows a hearing that took place on Monday September 29th during which Members of the European Parliament (MEP) questioned the Commissioner-designate for three hours.
The outcome of the vote remained uncertain until the last moment as several political groups required last-minute clarifications from Ms. Malmström regarding her negotiations with the U.S. government over the E.U.’s Data Protection Regulation. On Sunday 28, the German newspaper Der Spiegel revealed the existence of a document showing that the E.U. Commission Department for Home Affairs, led by Ms. Malmström, has been secretly working with the U.S. government to undermine E.U. data protection reform efforts. The document in question was acquired by Access through a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Department of Commerce on February 20, 2013.
Why did the International Trade Committee decide to confirm Cecilia Malmström as Commissioner for Trade despite these serious concerns? Here is what happen during the 24 hours prior the confirmation vote:
- Monday, September 29 – 14h30 CET: A three hour hearing for Commissioner-designate for Trade begins. Ms. Malmström is asked on three occasions to provide comments on the document acquired by Access.
- Monday, September 29 – 15h00 CET: MEP David Martin (Socialists and Democrats) asks Ms. Malmström to comment on the email acquired by Access and whether she can be trusted to negotiate a “delicate trade package with the USA” (referring to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP). In her response, Ms. Malmström states that she “totally rejects these false allegations” based on “misconceptions or lies” from an “alleged leaked email”.
- Monday, September 29 – 16h24 CET: MEP Franziska Keller (the Greens) clarifies to Ms. Malmström the origin of the document, legally obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, before asking the Commissioner-designate for comments on the validity and substance of the email. Ms. Malmström then claimed to “have always defended” the data protection reform before rejecting “allegations” that she did otherwise, concluding that these “were definitely not founded.” While it is true that Cecilia Malmström did not publicly criticised the European privacy reform agenda, she was said to consider vetoing the reform proposal back in 2012 as it might have conflicted with data transfer agreements she had been negotiating with the United States. Those agreements, the EU-US PNR agreement, collecting flights passenger data, and the Terrorist Financing Tracking Programme, allowing access to financial data for the prevention and prosecution of terrorism, have proven to be extremely controversial. Last year mass surveillance revelations indicated that the U.S. administration has been snooping into the databases of the agreements in question outside of the authorised scopes, thus effectively breaching E.U. citizens’ rights to privacy.
- Monday, September 29 – 17h09 CET: MEP Marita Ulvskog (Socialists and Democrats) requests written explanations from Ms. Malmström on whether or not her cabinet has been informing the U.S. administration during the data protection reform effort. Once again, Ms. Malmström claimed to “ignore where this email comes from” and rejected the veracity of “those allegations”.
- Monday, September 29 – 19h CET: Members of the INTA Committee decide not to confirm Ms. Malmström as Commissioner for Trade. Instead, four political groups, the European United Left (GUE), the Greens/EFA, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD), asked Ms. Malmström to comment on the email acquired by Access. In the meantime, the members agreed to organise a vote on Tuesday at noon on whether to confirm Cecilia Malmström as Commissioner for Trade.
- Tuesday, September 30 – 11h CET: Cecilia Malmström sends a letter to the INTA Committee on “allegations that [she] would have undermined or delay the EU data protection reform.” In this letter, Ms Malmström claims that she never reached out the U.S. on that matter nor instructed her cabinet to do so, and “to [her] knowledge” none of them did.
- Tuesday, September 30 – 11h30 CET: Access sends an open letter to Commissioner Malmström seeking clarification on her claims that the compromising document and its content are not genuine.
- Tuesday, September 30 – 12h CET: A vote on the confirmation of Cecilia Malmström as Commissioner for Trade takes place in the INTA Committee. With 26 votes in favour, 5 abstentions and 9 against, Ms. Malmström is confirmed as Commissioner. Satisfied by the written reassurances sent by Malmström in the morning, the Socialists MEPs eventually decided to support her nomination despite their strong call for clarification made the day before. Simply put, while faced with evidence but no concrete explanations from Ms. Malmström regarding the nature of her relationship with the U.S. administration, MEPs have decided to hand her the reins of the Trade department to lead the negotiations on the already controversial trade agreement with the United States.
What will happen next?
On October 22, a single vote will take place in the European Parliament to approve or reject the nomination of all 27 Commissioners of the European Commission, led by its already-confirmed President, Jean-Claude Juncker.
We urge the MEPs to take both the implications of the document and Malmström’s reluctance to provide a clear answer into consideration when they vote on that day.