Oostenrijkse kandidaat-eurocommissaris beloofd streng maar rechtvaardig te zijn voor de Europese regio's (en)

Met dank overgenomen van EUobserver (EUOBSERVER) i, gepubliceerd op vrijdag 15 januari 2010, 17:32.

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - Austria's commissioner nominee for regional affairs, Johannes Hahn i, told MEPs on Thursday he saw himself as a father-figure for the regions, looking after their development while also being tough on the use of EU money.

"Each father has an interest to see his kids thrive and develop well ... but sometimes he also has to be tough and say where the boundaries are," the centre-right Austrian politician said during the three-hour hearing.

One of the areas where Mr Hahn pledged to be tough is the level of errors potentially indicating fraud in the use of EU regional aid, which has regularly seen the Court of Auditors i raise red flags.

"The error rates identified by the Court of Auditors are alarm bells for me. I will have zero tolerance for errors and above all for suspected and actual fraud," Mr Hahn said.

As his predecessors, Mr Hahn spoke of the need to strike the right balance between "financial control" and "cutting red tape", praising the work done by Danuta Hubner i in simplifying the policy rules. Ms Hubner was a regional commissioner between 2004-2009 and is now chairwoman of the parliamentary committee on regional affairs he was addressing.

On the future of the policy, which currently accounts for over a third of the overall EU budget, Mr Hahn avoided making any concrete commitments. But he said one had to be "open to change, where it is needed", while indicating he was not in favour of a radical overhaul of the community budget at the expense of regional policy.

Pressed on the issue of misspent EU money, Mr Hahn referred to the €2.5 billion recovered in the last two years, considerably more than in previous years.

"But the objective of regional policy is not to say we've saved x billion euros. We need to have the money spent according to the rules, but it would be wrong to have the objective of having an awful lot of money left in the pot."

On specific policies, he spoke passionately about cross-border initiatives, especially with regions from non-EU member states.

"I believe one hundred percent in cross-border projects, this is the kind of policy that generates change. And we should particularly foster cross-border co-operation with regions outside the EU, because the EU is first and foremost a peace-building project," he argued.

One such initiative involving regions within and outside the EU is the Danube strategy, which is still in its early drafting phase in the EU commission. Austria has been a strong promoter of this ‘macro-regional' policy, which will draw from the Baltic Sea strategy, the first EU approach of this kind.

"It is a very exciting project, that includes eight EU states and six countries which are not yet members. Similar to the Baltic Sea strategy, it looks at issues in the use of water ways ", he said.

Integrity questions deflected

Mr Hahn was questioned by several MEPs on issues related to his former company, Novomatic, active in the gaming industry, which he quit in 2003. He said he had brought documentation to prove that there was no evidence that Novomatic laundered money or that he was in any way still connected to the company.

"I am not trying to duck the question. It is an important issue and I want it to be clear that there are no criminal investigations against me or anyone else," he stressed. "It is a groundless personal attack against me."

MEPs seemed overall pleased with his answers. The ones who had raised his integrity issues were more critical and said the legal service should have a look at the documents he provided.

His appointment is however seen as a shoo-in, committee chairwoman Danuta Hubner indicated. "I was impressed with his knowledge at this stage, because I know how difficult this policy is, including on the critical points - the dilemma between financial control and administrative burden," she told this website.

If approved together with the whole body of commissioners on 26 January, Mr Hahn is expected to take office on 1 February.

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