European Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed Wednesday (15 October) he wants Slovakia’s Maroš Šefčovič to be his Vice-President for Energy Union, replacing Slovenia’s Alenka Bratušek, who quit after being rejected by MEPs.
Šefčovič was originally pencilled in as Juncker’s Transport Commissioner, a role that now goes to Violeta Bulc, Bratušek’s replacement as Slovenia’s candidate Commissioner.
Bulc, 50-year-old telecoms entrepreneur who joined the new government in Ljubljana only last month, replaced Bratušek after a humiliating vote last week.
Last week, 112 MEPs sitting in the Industry, Research and Energy Committee and the Environment Committee judged Bratušek unfit for the job. Only 13 votes were cast in her favour, after her confirmation hearing. Among other things, former prime minister Bratušek was criticised for having nominated herself.
For Šefčovič and for the Socialists and Democrats, with whom he is affiliated, the move seems to be a major victory. Šefčovič is a Commission Vice-President at present, responsible for interinstitutional relations and administration, and his assigned transport portfolio was largely seen as a disappointment.
Juncker issued a new mission letter to Šefčovič, in which he assigns him oversight of the transport commissioner, which means that Bulc would be subordinated to him. The move is seen as an appeasement move to the parliament’s committee responsible for transport, which reportedly isn’t happy about Bulc getting the respective portfolio.
In his mission letter to Bulc, Juncker makes no mention of space, an element of the portfolio he had initially assigned to Šefčovič. It remains unclear under which Commissioner this policy area would be followed. Sarcastic comments in social media suggest that Juncker doesn’t want to assign the cosmos to someone who may fraternise with aliens.
Bulc’s colourful list of interests, 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, has attracted attention in Brussels.
It is believed that the reshuffle would obtain the support of the three major political groups in the European Parliament. For the centre-right European Peoples Party (EPP), it is important that their ‘Spitzenkandidat’ Juncker starts work as Commission President without further hurdles. The Socialists would be happy to have a second Vice-President, in addition to Federica Mogherini. The liberals would be happy if they can retain Bratušek’s seat for Bulc, another liberal.
Both Šefčovič and Bulc must now face confirmation hearings – interviews for the posts conducted by MEPs – at the European Parliament. The confirmation of Šefčovič by MEPs doesn’t appear to pose problems, however, it remains unclear if Bulc would convince MEPs of her capacity to assume her role as commissioner.
The Juncker spokesperson said the timing of the hearings was the exclusive remit of the Parliament. After the hearings, MEPs can accept or reject the whole Commission in a vote, which could now be delayed.
— Natasha Bertaud (@NatashaBertaud) October 15, 2014
The reshuffle was predicted from some time. But 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, remains unclear.
>>Read: Juncker plans team reshuffle
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 the present one, led by José Manuel Barroso.
But Juncker spokesperson, Margaritas Schinas, has said that a delay in the original calendar was possible.
Journalists asked if Bulc could appear in a hearing already next week. The other Commissioners had a longer time to prepare – almost three weeks. Schinas answered that during the interview with Bulc, Juncker found that she had the ability “to learn fast”.