EXCLUSIVE / MEP David Campbell Bannerman has asked for an inquiry into the travel expenses of Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva over the last two years, a period in which he is seeking clarification on EU money spent to fund her campaign for the post of UN Secretary-General.
(Editor’s note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Bannerman had referred the case to the European Court of Auditors. He hasn’t done so because the ECA is not competent to deal with such cases, which are dealt with by the Commission’s internal services. On substance however, the questions raised by M. Bannerman remain valid and legitimate.)
Campbell Bannerman, a Conservative MEP, first filed a parliamentary question to the European Commission on 12 January, asking why Georgieva makes frequent international travel at the EU’s expenses. In his view, such activity does not correspond to her portfolio as EU Commissioner for Budget and Human Resources.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker answered on 15 March, saying he had asked Vice-Presidents to coordinate work across the Commission in key areas, which includes the promotion of EU policies at international level. Regarding Georgieva specifically, he pointed out that she has been co-chairing the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing since May 2015.
Campbell Bannerman, however, told EURACTIV.com yesterday (13 October) that he was not satisfied with this answer.
“I have asked for explanations from the European Commission whether certain activities undertaken by Vice-President Kristalina Georgieva were compatible with, and justified by, her brief on ‘Budget and Human Resources’, such as official visits to New York City and Ethiopia. I have not had any proper or straight reply,” he said.
The Tory MEP said there had been “considerable speculation” that Georgieva has been campaigning for the job of UN Secretary-General for a period of at least two years, “as at least one Permanent Representative had alleged”.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Genady Gatilov said that Georgieva has been in touch with the Russian side for her UN bid for a very long time.
The Commission’s chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas told EURACTIV on 2 November 2015 that Georgieva had indeed discussed with Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker the possibility that she may run for Secretary-General.
However, Georgieva officially campaigned for only one week, as the Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov withdrew the candidacy for the UN top job of Irina Bokova, the UNESCO director general, to nominate Georgieva on 28 September.
Georgieva ended up being defeated and on 5 October the UN Security Council elected Portugal’s António Guterres as UN Secretary-General.
The vote in the Security Council was a disappointment for Georgieva, and a humiliation for Borissov, who was blamed in his country for having withdrawn Bokova’s candidacy. Bokova was the woman candidate with the best score, and 4th overall, while Georgieva came 7th.
Campbell Bannerman said he wants clarifications if “the EU taxpayers’ monies were improperly used”, and that in such case the development “would raise serious questions as to [Georgieva’s] position within the European Commission”.
“Urgent reassurance is needed on this, and the best way to achieve the necessary assurance would be for a full list of all of Commissioner Georgieva’s visits outside the EU and a full account of the expenditure by the Commissioner and her staff to be submitted to the European Court of Auditors for immediate examination,” the Tory MEP said.
MEP Ana Gones (S&D, Portugal, tweered that Mario David, a former Portuguese MEP, had worked for two years in Georgieva’s campaign.
— (((Ana Gomes, MEP))) (@AnaGomesMEP) October 14, 2016
Update (27 October):
The Foreign Policy Research Institute has withdrawn an article by Yves Kugelmann from its website, upon which the expenses controversy pursued by MEP Bannerman derives. On Wednesday (26 October) it published the following retraction:
“On October 17, 2016, we posted an article by Yves Kugelmann titled, “A Major Blunder at the UN Narrowly Averted.” The article contained assertions about Bulgaria’s European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva. Upon investigation and further review, we do not stand behind the article and we retract it. It was removed from our website on October 25, 2016.”