Bulgaria stands firm over EU Commission nominee

Bulgaria's PM Borisov stood firmly behind his nominee for the European Commission.

Bulgaria stands firm over EU Commission nominee

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Boiko Borisov stood firmly behind his nominee for the European Commission on Friday and said it was up to lawyers in Brussels to decide if she was suitable for the high-profile EU job.

Rumiana Jeleva, Bulgaria's foreign minister, has been proposed as European commissioner for humanitarian aid, but she struggled to convince the European Parliament of her skills or dispel concerns about her business ties in a hearing this week.

The large Socialist grouping in parliament described Jeleva, 40, as "not good enough for the job" on Thursday, and has asked Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to get legal guidance on whether her business background is acceptable.

Borisov held firm in his support for Jeleva on Friday, but left open the possibility that she could be withdrawn if lawyers in Brussels decide she is unsuitable.

"There is no change in the Bulgarian position," Nikolai Boev, the prime minister's spokesman, said. "We continue to support Jeleva and we are waiting for the Commission's lawyers to rule on her business affairs."

Bulgaria's justice ministry said in a statement on Friday that Jeleva had done nothing wrong under Bulgarian law. The same statement was sent to lawyers in Brussels, it said.

Concerns about Jeleva's background relate to her management of a privatisation company called Global Consult Ltd. Lawyers for the European Parliament are studying the issue and are expected to reach a decision shortly, Commission sources said.

Jeleva has denied wrongdoing.

Pressure on Sofia to change its candidate threatens to provoke tit-for-tat opposition to other Commission nominees by rival groups in parliament, delaying installation of the executive, which proposes and enforces EU laws.

The president of the parliament, Jerzy Buzek, wrote to Barroso with concerns about Jeleva's candidacy and a spokeswoman for Barroso said he would reply to Buzek on Friday, a reply that may indicate whether she has still has Barroso's confidence.

With opposition to Jeleva strong among centre-left groups in parliament, centre-right members have signalled that they will challenge the suitability of Slovakia's leftist candidate for the Commission, Maros Sefcovic, at his hearing next Monday.

"Second hearing"

The Commission includes one nominee from each of the 27 member states in the European Union and Barroso has carefully divided portfolios to reflect a balance between factions.

The full team requires parliament's approval after individual hearings. If the line-up is rejected in a vote on Jan. 26, or the vote is postponed for Barroso to reshuffle his list, policy decisions could be held up for weeks and the EU's efforts to strengthen its global image damaged.

Borisov, whose centre-right GERB party won parliamentary elections last July, told Bulgarian TV on Thursday it would be a mistake to preemptively withdraw Jeleva before concerns over her business interests were clarified.

"The (centre-right) European People's Party asked us not to do it (withdraw Jeleva) before the lawyers of the European Commission come up with a ruling," Borisov said. "Let's wait two or three days, I do not think it would be fatal."

A government source in Sofia said a face-saving option for both Borisov and Barroso might be for Jeleva to withdraw her own candidacy and quit as foreign minister.

Sources in Brussels suggested though that if lawyers find nothing wrong with her business ties, one way out of the stand-off may be for Jeleva to be given a second hearing to see if she can prove her qualification for the job.

Borisov has indicated that he has a "plan B" if Jeleva is rejected. Bulgarian media say Defence Minister Nikolai Mladenov, 37, may be the replacement, but officials have declined comment.

Some commentators say the row is a further blow to Bulgaria's poor image abroad, tainted by its failure to tame rampant corruption and organised crime, but was unlikely to hurt the government's strong popularity at home.

"Society sees the issue as sabotage by the opposition (Socialists)," said Kiril Avramov of Political Capital, a think-tank.

Reuters
Last Mod: 16 Ocak 2010, 12:08
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