After lengthy and secretive telephone diplomacy following the questionable performance of Bulgarian Foreign Minister Jeleva (EurActiv 13/01/10), who was recently appointed vice-president of the European People's Party, Barroso finally announced his decision to support her.
Replies to two questions
Barroso answered a letter by European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek, who asked him if he could confirm that her Declaration of Interests, deposited with the Commission, was in conformity with the code of conduct of commissioners. The Parliament president also asked whether Barroso was still backing the Bulgarian candidate after her hearing.
The EU assembly's development committee, by which Jeleva was grilled, has already concluded that she was unable to answer any of the questions in a satisfactory manner.
On the first question, Barroso avoided taking any risks, saying that the Commission must rely on the statements of the individuals concerned. Jeleva had confirmed again, in a letter signed on 14 January and attached to his answer, that her statements were fully accurate and complete, he stressed.
On the second question, Barroso said that Jeleva, who has twice been elected as an MEP and is currently her country's foreign minister, "has the necessary general competence and international experience, and shows the necessary commitment, to exercise her functions" as commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid and crisis response. Here also, the Commission president took no risks, as he did not refer to her hearing.
Little room for manoeuvre
Commission sources told EurActiv that Barroso had no other choice but to back Jeleva, as rejecting her for incompetence would mean "telling Bulgaria that its foreign minister is incompetent".
However, by backing Jeleva, Barroso is perfectly aware that he will face the fury of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, which asked for the withdrawal of the Bulgarian nominee.
S&D group leader Martin Schulz said in a communiqué: "I have informed Commission President José Manuel Barroso that aside from serious allegations of financial impropriety against Ms. Jeleva, my group considers that she is not good enough for the job. It is now for him to reflect on this matter and draw the necessary conclusions."
Schulz hit out at what he called "offensive remarks" directed at left-leaning MEPs by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov the previous day, including a reference to them as the troublemakers in Brussels.
"The former bodyguard of the former communist dictator of Bulgaria has no right to attack us in such a way," he said. Indeed, Borissov was Todor Zhivkov's bodyguard when the former dictator lived in home arrest after 1990.
Liberal group leader Guy Verhofstadt, who was also targeted by Borissov’s statements as a ‘conspirator’, also reacted:
"It is totally unacceptable for a Prime Minister to hit out with such sharp language at MEPs who are simply doing their job of scrutinising the candidates for the new EU executive […] We are only interested in transparency and accountability and not in the game of conspiracy that Prime Minister Borissov is alleging," Verhofstadt stated.
A vote in plenary on 26 January is expected to decide on the fate of the Barroso II team. With the Socialists, the Liberals, the Greens and some other groups voting against the forceful decision by Barroso to keep a controversial candidate, the result of the vote already appears uncertain, Parliament sources told EurActiv.
A spokesperson of the Green group in the European Parliament told EurActiv that his party would not issue any reaction until the legal service of the Parliament issues its opinion on Jeleva’s financial declarations, deposited with the European Parliament.