Verhofstadt throws his weight behind Bulc

Guy Verhofstadt, with Violeta Bulc. [Guy Verhofstadt Twitter]

ALDE leader Guy Verhofstadt thew his weight behind the candidacy of Violeta Bulc on Monday (13 October). A minister in Slovenia’s current government, Bulc would replace Alenka Bratušek as her country’s next EU Commissioner, on the Juncker team.

Verhofstadt met with Bulc yesterday, in Brussels. Neil Corlett, spokesperson for Verhofstadt, told EURACTIV that both had been keen to get together.

The Slovenian government announced on 10 October it was proposing Bulc, following the European Parliament’s rejection of Bratušek, who failed to convince MEPs of her ability to assume the post of Vice-President responsible for the EU’s Energy Union.

Both Bratušek and Bulc are considered to be of liberal affiliation. Bratušek recently created her own party, and applied to join the European liberal ALDE family, while Bulc, who is not a politician, joined the cabinet of Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar last August. Cerar is regarded as a political maverick, and has also chosen liberal affiliation.

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As Corlett explained, Verhofstadt was very much opposed to attempts by the Socialists “to subvert the nomination process” by proposing Tanja Fajon, an S&D-affiliated Slovenian MEP, to replace Bratušek. In fact, the nomination needs to be made by the Slovenian government. As he explained, the liberals insisted that the Slovenian commissioner should be a liberal.

Indeed, ES President Sergei Stanishev had openly called for the nomination of Fajon, a former journalist with an excellent reputation as an MEP, who is serving a second term.  But strangely enough, the centre-right EPP group also published a press release pleading with Slovenia to appoint Fajon, describing her as a “woman candidate with experience”.

ALDE had supported Bratušek until the end, and had asked for a second hearing to be organised, in the same way that the UK commissioner-designate Jonathan Hill had received a second chance to make his case. However, ALDE was rebuffed, and Bratušek wasn’t given the opportunity.

Asked if Verhofstadt wasn’t disturbed by the fact that Bulc comes from the business sector, and has only a few weeks worth of political experience, Corlett said that so was Kristalina Georgieva, Bulgaria’s present Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid, who came from the World Bank and had no political background, but in his words, “is one of the best there is” in the EU executive.

Asked if the liberals weren’t disturbed by some esoteric views that Bulc has expressed in her blog, he said that he was not familiar with those, but that what was important was that she had the confidence of her country’s prime minister.

Commenting on the choice of Bulc, and her taste for the transcendental ideas (‘New Age’ as it is called in the US), Ziga Turk, a former Slovenian minister for education and science and a former member of the Future of Europe group led by Felipe Gonzalez, Tweeted that “Dan Brown’s next novel will feature European Commission instead of Vatican”.

It remains unclear if Bulc has abandoned her business activities, in order to be able to take up a job as commissioner. Asked by EURACTIV to comment on this, Juncker spokesperson Margaritis Schinas said that all Commissioners are required to present a declaration of financial interest. So far, all Commissioners-designate have tabled such declarations, stating that they have no business interests, ahead of the hearings.

Bulc is due to meet with Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker this evening. Margaritas Schinas, Juncker’s spokesperson, made it plain that the President-elect would not assign a portfolio to Bulc until she is approved by the Council (the EU heads of state and government).  

“After the interview Mr. Juncked will have to make an opinion for himself first on the suitability of Ms Bulc to be a commissioner designate. And if this happens, the logical sequence of events is that this would require approval by the Council. […]  the Council approves the list, the second stage is that Mr Juncker decides on the portfolio, and then we go into the parliamentary calendar”, he said. 

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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