Juncker plans team reshuffle

Jean-Claude Juncker [European Commission]

Jean-Claude Juncker [European Commission]

Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker, has proposed a minor reshuffle of his team following the EU parliament’s rejection of the Slovenian nominee to the European Commission.

In a statement yesterday (14 October) after meeting Slovenia’s substitute candidate, Violeta Bulc, Juncker said he had proposed to the Council of EU government leaders a new list of commissioners. In this list, Bulc replaced former Slovenian premier Alenka Bratušek, whom lawmakers had refused to accept.

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A source close to Juncker quoted by Reuters said that if the Council accepted Bulc – a process that could be completed via envoys in Brussels as early as today – then he would propose Bulc take the transport portfolio on his team. The Slovak nominee, Maroš Šef?ovi?, previously designated for the Transport and Space portfolio, would take the vice presidency for Energy Union originally offered to Bratušek.

Bulc, a 50-year-old telecoms entrepreneur who joined the new government in Ljubljana only last month, would face a confirmation hearing with a committee of the European Parliament on 20 October. That would be followed by Šef?ovi? for his new role on 21 October, ahead of a vote scheduled for 22 October, at which the legislature must approve or reject Juncker’s team en bloc.

This scenario however leaves one question open: the situation of Hungarian Commissioner Tibor Navracsics, whom the Parliament accepted as Commissioner, but not for his assigned portfolio of Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship.

>> Read: Parliament rejects Hungary’s Navracsics as education and culture commissioner

The new EU executive body, comprised of one representative from each of the 28 member states, is due to take office for five years on 1 November, replacing that led by the outgoing president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. But Juncker spokesperson, Margaritas Schinas, has said that a delay in the original calendar was possible.


A colourful figure

Bulc studied in San Francisco and worked in Silicon Valley before returning to Slovenia to work in the state telecoms company and then found her own firm, Telemach. She was recruited into politics as a deputy premier last month by Prime Minister Miro Cerar, who unseated Bratušek in an election in July. Among other things, Bratušek was criticised for having nominated herself.

Bulc’s colourful list of interests has attracted attention in Brussels, ranging from her youthful prowess in basketball and a black belt in tae kwon do, to her training as a shaman, and promotion of fire-walking in her consultancy business.

Žiga Turk, professor, former secretary general of the Future of Europe Reflection Group and former Minister of Education and Science of Slovenia, contributed to EURACTIV an op-ed criticising the choice of Bulc.

>> Read: If Bulc is nominated, the next Dan Brown novel should be about the Brussels bubble

Her record as an entrepreneur, however, may counter critics, although as a liberal centrist, not backed by either of the two main parliamentary blocs, she faces a tough hearing.

The centre-left had urged Cerar to propose Tanja Fajon, an MEP from their political group to replace Bratušek. But the group may be mollified by Juncker’s plan to promote Šef?ovi? , a Slovak who is outgoing EU commissioner for relations among the union’s institutions, to the Energy vice presidency.

One element undecided in the new line-up, according to the source close to Juncker, was whether the responsibility that Šef?ovi? was to have had for space travel would be handed to Bulc. It could be assigned to another commissioner. 

Any further rejection by parliament would probably delay the transfer of powers from Barroso to Juncker.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the Commission President-elect, announced the distribution of portfolios among his new team on 10 September.

The next step in the procedure is the hearings of the commissioners in the European Parliament. During the two weeks of hearings between 29 September and 7 October, the 27 commissioners have been interviewed by MEPs from relevant parliamentary commissions.

All except Slovenia’s Alenka Bratušek have been accepted for the post of Commissioners, and Hungary’s Tibor Navracsics has been accepted as commissioner, but not for the assigned portfolio, which includes citizenship.

Normally the Parliament was prepared to vote the commission on 22 November. But now it looks certain that the procedure will be delayed and that additional hearings will be needed, as well as a limited re-shuffle of portfolios.

Parliament can then accept or reject the whole team.

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