European Socialist MEPs expressed strong support for Kristalina Georgieva, the Bulgarian commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response, after a senior member of the Bulgarian Socialist party slammed her for “not doing enough” in performing her duties.
MEPs mobilised to express support for Georgieva, who was accused by her compatriot Iliana Iotova, a Socialist MEP, for not doing enough to help Sofia deal with Syrian refugees seeking shelter in Bulgaria.
Iotova, who is one of the key figures of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), claimed that “some circles in Brussels” were unhappy with her work in countries in need of humanitarian aid.
“2 million euro were spent [sic] for problem countries, but now they tell us – we don’t want your little tents and your little blankets, they don’t solve our problems”, the Bulgarian press quoted Iotova as saying.
These attacks take place amid rising political tension in Bulgaria ahead of the European elections in May (see background).
The prime minister, Plamen Oresharski, a technocrat in charge of a minority government supported by the BSP, said last week that Georgieva could be a good candidate for commissioner following the European elections.
Georgieva, a former World Bank vice-president before taking on the role as commissioner in 2009, has no political affiliation. She was nominated by the centre-right government of GERB leader Boyko Borissov, after an unsuccessful attempt to place Rumiana Jeleva, a former foreign minister, in the commissioner post reserved for Bulgaria.
British Labour MEP Michael Cashman (Socialists & Democrats), who is a member of the European Parliament development committee which oversees Georgieva’s portfolio, expressed surprise at the criticism, saying Bulgarians should be proud of Georgieva's work as commissioner.
“Her accountability, transparency and commitment are undeniable and she has always involved the European Parliament and its members directly in the work that was undertaken. Her work ranks amongst the highest in the European Commission and Bulgarians should be rightly proud of her distinguished and tireless service at the heart of the EU," Cashman told EURACTIV.
MEP Thijs Berman (S&D, Netherlands), said he deeply regretted that the BSP and Iotova had decided to launch an attack against Georgieva.
‘One of the best, if not the best’
“She is one of the best, if not the best commissioner," Berman said. "Highly effective outspoken, committed to her work, struggling with the lack of funds and always succeeding to obtain them in the last second, thanks to her strong personality”.
Berman, who is a rapporteur the Development Cooperation Instrument, said he has worked closely with Georgieva and that this had been “a great time” for him.
Eva Joly (Green/EFA group, France), who chairs the European Parliament's Development Committee, said the EU was “lucky” to have Georgieva for commissioner.
Joly said, under Georgieva's watch, the EU “did everything” to help the most vulnerable populations during major humanitarian crises in Haiti, Syria, Sudan or the Central African Republic.
“Kristalina Georgieva is a strong woman, highly qualified, honest and dedicated to the cause of solidarity and humanitarian law”, said Joly, expressing hope that she would be able to work with her in the future.
'Attacks not only personal'
Speaking to EURACTIV, Georgieva said she would have ignored the attacks if they didn’t touch upon the EU's life-saving work in the context of the Syrian crisis
“If today from 2 million and 300,000 Syrian refugees only 60,000 have arrived to Europe, this is because we invest very actively in refugee protection, but also in the local communities where often they outnumber twice or threefold the number of local citizens”, Georgieva said.
She also said that if Lebanon and Jordan did not collapse under the challenge of Syrian refugees, this was thanks to an EU-led effort.
Georgieva rejected accusations that she did not do enough for help Bulgaria deal with refugees, saying she immediately offered whatever assistance the EU could provide. This included financial, technical and in-kind assistance from the EU’s civil protection service, as well as technical advice on border protection and the processing of asylum-seekers’ requests.
On her insistence, Antonio Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, provided financial assistance, a first for an EU member country.
Georgieva also reminded that the Commission disbursed €8 million to help Bulgaria deal with rising xenophobia caused by the sudden arrival of several thousands of refugees. In addition, a number of EU countries provided bilateral support in kind and in cash, she said.