Tory MEP questions Georgieva’s travel expenses

Kristalina Georgieva at the UN. New York, September 2015. [European Commission]

EXCLUSIVE / A British lawmaker has asked the European Commission to explain why Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva often travels internationally, as such activity, in his view, doesn’t correspond with her portfolio, as EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources.

David Campbell Bannerman, an MEP from David Cameron’s Conservative Party, filed the parliamentary question, EURACTIV has learnt.

Indeed, the official Commission weekly program shows that Georgieva travels extensively, athough her main responsibility is to police the Union’s budget, and to make sure that the EU executive is properly staffed.

Many of Georgieva’s trips and meetings with foreign officials appear aimed at positioning herself as a candidate for Secretary General of the United Nations. What’s being questioned is whether Georgieva is campaigning on Commission time, using the EU and its resources to do so.

As an example, on Tuesday (2 February), Georgieva will be in the United States, taking part in the Hoolbrooke Forum at Brookings Institution in Washington. She will then give a keynote address at the European Horizons Conference at Yale University, and present the report of the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing to the UN in New York. On Sunday (31 January),  she was in Ethiopia, attending the 26th summit of the African Union.

Georgieva didn’t comment on her UN aspirations, but the European Commission’s Chief Spokesperson, Margaritis Schinas, confirmed last November that she had discussed the issue with their boss, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

>>Read: Georgieva to run for UN Secretary General

In his question, Campbell Bannerman makes no allusion to Georgieva’s political plans, but refers to “comments” regarding her international travel, for activities which he says do not arise directly from her responsibilities.

Bannerman points out that Federica Mogherini, another Commission Vice-President, and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, should take care of external responsibilities.

“It is difficult to understand from the job description of the VP with responsibility for Budget and Human Resources how or why that role could involve any significant travel or work outside EU institutions,” the British lawmaker writes in his question to the Commission.

“I would ask Commission President to provide: details of any official travel undertaken by the Vice-President for Budget & Human Resources, for meetings not directly associated with the Commissioner’s responsibilities within the Commission, since the appointment of the current Commission; a short summary of the purpose of each visit with a list of official meetings; details of the staff accompanying the Vice President on each visit; the travel, accommodation and other costs of the Commission VP and accompanying delegation for each visit; and an estimate of the amount of time being spent by the Commissioner concerned in work other than work arising directly from the office held within the Commission,” Campbell Bannerman’s question further reads.

The Commission said they were not yet aware of Campbell Bannerman’s question, and that a reply would be made to him directly. But the procedure of parliamentary questions in the European legislature is extremely lengthy by the standards of national parliaments, and by the time a response is offered, the issue often is no longer of interest.

Commission Spokesperson Alexander Winterstein told EURACTIV:

“This is a political Commission. President Juncker expects the members of his College to engage with stakeholders and represent the Commission both within the EU and beyond. This is true, in particular, in case of Vice-Presidents like Kristalina Georgieva.”

Winterstein said that good examples of her trips were the signing an agreement between the Commission and the African Union to further strengthen the cooperation between the two organisations, and the keynote address at the European Horizons’ Conference at Yale University, where she will set out the EU’s important role in addressing today’s major global challenges.

He also stated that Georgieva’s co-chairing the UN High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing is a clear recognition of both the EU’s leadership, as the largest donor of humanitarian aid in the world, together with its member states, and of her personal experience and commitment in this area.

“This is highly noble work which the VP is doing in parallel with her responsibilities as VP in charge of budget and human resources,” Winterstein said.

Dick Roche, a former Irish Minister for European Affairs, told EURACTIV it was not surprising that questions were been asked in this case.

Roche commented that one of the most interesting aspects of the current Commission was the amount of thought that went into its structure. Georgieva doesn’t appear to abide by those rules.

‘Organisational tensions’

“The division of responsibilities within the Commission was very clearly set out when the Commission was put in place. The Commission President provided a clever structure for dealing with cross-cutting issues and for ensuring a more cohesive approach by the Commission as a whole,” said Roche, saying that the “mission letter” by Juncker to Georgieva doesn’t ask her to act in the external dimension of areas of other commissioners, but instead requires her to focus on areas such as the mid-term review of the EU budget, or addressing systemic shortcomings of the budget.

In the meantime it has become clear that the European Commission has no plan to conduct a mid-term review of the budget, and that it feels comforted by a €12-billion cushion existing in the 2014-2020 financial framework.

>>Read: Midterm budget review falls victim of the UK referendum

“Issues arising in the areas of the Union’s External Relations, international cooperation, development, humanitarian and emergency aid are more than adequately covered in the current Commission by High Representative Mogherini and by Commissioners Stylianides and Mimica,” said Roche, acknowledging that Georgieva’s overtaking on their areas was a “subject to comment” in the institutions. Christos Stylianides is Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner and Neven Mimica is Development Commissioner. Both appear eclipsed by Georgieva when it comes to external representation.

As an example, Georgieva took part in the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, in March 2015, an activity which should normally be under the remit of Stylianides. Then, in November, she spoke at a conference on the 70th Anniversary of the UN at the Brookings Institution and at the UN Institute for Peace. Over the last two years, she has, for all intents and purposes, monopolised all UN events with EU participation.

“Not only is the remarkable level of involvement in the areas assigned to these other Commissioners by of a fourth member of the Commission very hard to fathom, but it carries with it some significant negatives. The potential for organisational tension is high – as in every other walk of life – Commissioners ‘guard their patch’, it fractures the clarity that the Juncker structure was intended to put in place and it represents a suboptimal use of resources. Finally and perhaps most importantly, at a time when EU institutions are not held in the highest regard it contributes to the mood of skepticism that is all too prevalent about Europe,” Roche further said.

“Mr Campbell Bannerman’s question is not only entirely appropriate, but it is surprising that the issue has not been the subject of questions from more members of the EU Parliament,” Roche said.

Juncker displeased

Jean-Claude Juncker is reported to be unhappy with the eventuality of Georgieva leaving before the mid-term of his presidential mandate. The rumour is that he has told recently his closest aides that due to his health situation, he would be less present in Brussels through 2016, and has askedFrans Timmermans, but also Georgieva, to be prepared to deputise for him.

Juncker doesn’t want to appear that he has encouraged Georgieva to run for the UN job, or that he has endorsed her campaign. She should not be seen as “the Commission’s” candidate, because several other EU countries also have candidates for the UN top job. Slovenia nominated its former President, Damilo Turk, Croatia nominated its former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vesna Pusi?, Slovakia has nominated its Foreign Minister, Miroslav Laj?ák, and Portugal said it would nominate the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres.

Subscribe to our newsletters