EU pressures Bulgaria over Slovak candidate

Socialists in the European Parliament increased pressure on Bulgaria yesterday to change its candidate for the European Commission, raising the risk of further delay in installing the new EU executive.

Centre-right members of parliament flexed their muscles in return, signalling they would challenge the suitability of Slovakia’s leftist candidate if their rivals keep gunning for Bulgaria’s Rumiana Jeleva, a centre-right foreign minister.

The Commission, which proposes and enforces European Union laws, includes one nominee from each of the 27 member states and has been carefully assembled by Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to reflect a balance between parliamentary factions. The full team requires parliament’s approval after individual hearings. If the line-up is rejected in a vote on January 26, or Barroso has to reshuffle his list, policy decisions could be held up for weeks and the EU’s efforts to strengthen its global image damaged.

The outgoing Commission’s term has already been extended from November, enabling it to keep taking urgent decisions on cases such as state aid for banks in the financial crisis, but not to put forward new policy proposals.

“I have informed Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso that aside from serious allegations of financial impropriety against Jeleva, my group considers that she is not good enough for the job,” said Socialist floor leader Martin Schulz.

“It is now for him to reflect on this matter and draw the necessary conclusions,” Schulz said in a statement on behalf of Socialists, the second largest group in the assembly, which also criticised Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov. Jeleva, nominated as commissioner for humanitarian aid, struggled in a three-hour hearing by the assembly’s development committee on Tuesday over questions about her portfolio and her business interests in Bulgaria.

Diplomatic sources said Jerzy Buzek, the head of parliament, had sent a letter from the committee to Barroso asking him whether he was certain she was a suitable candidate and complied with the Commission’s code of conduct.

Jeleva, 40, has denied any wrongdoing, despite questions about her role managing an infrastructure services company, Global Consult Ltd.

The Commission is appointed for five years and has important regulatory, legislative and policy-shaping powers in the EU, the world’s biggest trading bloc with 500 million citizens.

If the new team is unable to take office on February 1, it would underline divisions less than a month after the Lisbon Treaty, meant to reform the bloc’s institutions, improve decision-making and strengthen its role on the world stage, came into force.

Deepening the dispute over Jeleva, Schulz made a personal attack on Borisov for criticising the Socialists.

“The former bodyguard of the former communist dictator of Bulgaria has no right to attack us in such a way,” Schulz said.

He accused Borisov of criticising anyone who disagreed with him and said Jeleva would have to face a second parliamentary hearing if she remained a nominee for the Commission. Borisov has said he believes Jeleva will be approved, but that he has a “plan B” if needed.

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