Dazzling Bulgarian EU nominee wows Parliament


Bulgarian commissioner-designate Kristalina Georgieva scored high marks at a European Parliament confirmation hearing yesterday (3 February), earning repeated applause from MEPs across party lines and paving the way for the approval of the Barroso II team next week in Strasbourg.

Mixing humour and self-depreciation with passionate political statements, Kristalina Georgieva won the support of the packed Parliament meeting room, with MEPs congratulating her on her success well before the hearing had officially ended.

"For those in need around the world this is the most important portfolio," Georgieva said, dismissing views that her future field of activity was "less important" than other commissioners' attributions.

"I will strive to be a strong voice for those in dire need," she said, pledging to use EU resources effectively and to give visibility to the Union's actions in earthquake-hit Haiti (EURACTIV 25/01/10).

Irony of sorts on Haiti

The quake hit Haiti just two hours after the disappointing performance of Rumiana Jeleva, who had been appointed to Georgieva's portfolio before being forced to resign amid accusations of conflicts of interest (see 'Background').

"Haiti starts from scratch, but not alone. If I am confirmed, it will be my immediate duty to make sure we Europeans bring to Haiti the best our Union has to offer," Georgieva assured MEPs.

Georgieva answered questions confidently and assuredly, giving both specific details and broad policy ideas.

The procedure sets time limits for questions and answers, but Georgieva did not always take these into account. When she started explaining her ideas for innovative ways of financing large-scale humanitarian crises such as the one in Haiti, her time elapsed and development committee chair Eva Joly (Greens/EFA, France) had to cut her short.

However, Joly was perfectly aware that the audience wanted to hear more. "It is very interesting, but we have to move on," Joly said with regret, prompting laughs from MEPs.

The Green/EFA group, which had given Jeleva a hard time, this time rushed to congratulate Georgieva, issuing a press release even before the hearing had ended.

'Yes she can'

"Kristalina Georgieva left no doubt that she is the right woman for the job," the Greens said in a statement. "In her hearing, she demonstrated that she has the human and professional qualities to be an excellent humanitarian aid commissioner. She also showed a sensitivity to green issues, including the interconnection between development, environmental degradation and humanitarian aid," said Judith Sargentini, a Dutch Green MEP.

"The only real question that remains is why Georgieva was not nominated by the Bulgarian government in the first place," Sargentini concluded.

The liberal ALDE group, some of whose members were seen as hostile to Jeleva, praised Georgieva's performance. Speaking to EURACTIV, Charles Goerens (ALDE, Luxembourg), smilingly said "yes she can," adding that her performance had been "without any glitches". Georgieva proved she had a good knowledge of her dossier and demonstrated "great political skills," he said.

"Even for the most difficult political questions, she knew how to answer, without speaking in general or bureaucratic terms," Goerens said.

He added that in his view, Georgieva would be one of the new Commission's heavyweights.

Chain of command questioned

Asked whether he expected Georgieva to work well with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, whose performance at the hearing was widely seen as less convincing, Goerens expressed no doubt.

"I would advise Ms. Ashton to give Ms. Georgieva a maximum of freedom of action, in all areas where the impartiality and the neutrality of humanitarian actions are the most adequate instruments. In those areas Georgieva would excel, and all other players should step aside, because it's her who should lead."

Georgieva was challenged by a question from MEP Thijs Berman (S&D, Netherlands) about overlapping portfolios at the Commission, where she will have to work closely with Latvia's Andris Piebalgs (Development) under Ashton's leadership.

The commissioner-designate said she had discussed this issue with Ashton a few days ago when they met for the first time. Humanitarian aid and disaster response will be her fields of activity alone, Georgieva said.

However, she pledged to be a good team player. "Coming from the World Bank, collective decision-making runs through my blood," she said, smiling.

A bow to francophony

As the meeting was coming to an end, Georgieva was asked to make use of five minutes for final comments. She said she only wanted to make one statement: that on the same day her mother had turned 86, and that she had promised her that she would learn French.

"Si ma nomination est confirmée, je ferai l'effort d'apprendre le français," she said, amid applause.

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Commissioner-designate Kristalina Georgieva is not known to have a political affiliation, but her candidacy was put forward by the ruling centre-right party in Bulgaria, GERB.

This did not prevent the European Parliament's Socialist and Democrats (S&D) group from warmly praising Georgieva for her performance at the hearing.

"The EU Commission nominee for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva of Bulgaria, today gave an excellent performance at her European Parliament hearing in Brussels," said S&D MEPs.

In a joint statement, S&D Group Vice-President Véronique de Keyser, and its spokesman on development, Thijs Berman, said: "Ms Georgieva confirmed that she has the qualifications, the competence, the experience and the probity required to be a very good humanitarian aid commissioner."

"She masters the subject. She showed a capacity for detailed analysis and a great sense of communication.  This is a relief," they added.

"Her long experience at the World Bank will be an extra asset in her new European responsibilities. The S&D group is ready to work closely with her," the statement ends.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov said Kristalina Georgieva had been "perfect" at the hearing, reports the daily Dnevnik, EURACTIV's partner publication in Bulgaria.

"Georgieva has peformed in GERB-style," said Borissov proudly. The acronym of his EPP-affiliated party party stands for Citizens for the European Development of Bulgaria.

"I am glad that my counsellors receive such high marks in Europe and in the world. I hope that our opponents now realise that from any kompromat war GERB will emerge ever stronger," he said, apparently implying that Jeleva had been forced to resign due to unfounded accusations, rather than as a result of her poor performance at the hearing.

Based on candidacies submitted by each country, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso distributed portfolios within his new team, which overall consists of 27 members, one for each member state (EURACTIV 27/11/09). 

All commissioners-designate had to undergo a three-hour long Q&A session with each candidate in the parliamentary committee(s) responsible for the portfolio concerned.

Bulgarian commissioner-designate Rumiana Jeleva (International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response) flopped at her hearing in the Development committee, failing to counter accusations of conflict of interest and giving disappointing answers on policy issues (EURACTIV 13/01/10). On 19 January, she resigned (EURACTIV 20/01/10).

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov then appointed Kristalina Georgieva as commissioner-designate to replace Jeleva.

Georgieva is currently vice-president of the World Bank, where she has been working since 1993, first in environmental and then social areas. Georgieva has also been the Bank's representative to Russia, and served as director responsible for the World Bank Sustainable Development Network.

Georgieva will be attributed the same portfolio as Jeleva (International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response).

  • 9 Feb.: Approval vote on Barroso II team by European Parliament in Strasbourg.

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