Setback for Barroso as candidate steps down


EUROPEAN COMMISSION president José Manuel Barroso suffered a big setback as the European Parliament claimed a scalp with the resignation from his incoming executive of Bulgaria’s foreign minister, Rumiana Jeleva.

Senior MEPs questioned Mr Barroso’s political judgment in agreeing to the nomination of Ms Jeleva, whose feeble performance in a parliamentary confirmation hearing last week led Socialist, Liberal and Green MEPs to rally against her.

The was no public indication from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) that it would seek to block any other incoming commissioner to compensate for the loss of Ms Jeleva, whose nomination it backed.

Her departure, after days of fraught politicking in Brussels and Strasbourg, mirrors the parliament’s ejection from Mr Barroso’s first commission of Italian nominee Rocco Buttiglione over his views on homosexuality.

With a parliamentary vote on the new commission now postponed by a fortnight, it will also delay the arrival into office of Mr Barroso’s new team.

As Bulgaria’s government chose World Bank vice-president Kristalina Georgieva as its new nominee, a commission spokesman could not say whether she would take the humanitarian aid portfolio slated for Ms Jeleva.

Informed sources said this was likely as Mr Barroso could not put Ms Georgieva into a new post without moving another nominee, further delaying the process.

Ms Jeleva’s resignation, which followed a tepid endorsement from Mr Barroso five days ago, came after it became clear that the parliament’s development committee was preparing to reject her.

Mr Barroso’s office said he respected her “personal decision” and would meet Ms Georgieva as soon as possible to consider her nomination. “President Barroso welcomes the swift reaction of the Bulgarian government to this situation.”

Green group co-president Daniel Cohn-Bendit said the resignation “absolutely” called into question Mr Barroso’s judgment.

“He got in trouble because of his wrong judgment and his capacity of judgment,” he said.

Mr Cohn-Bendit said Mr Barroso erred in believing the EPP’s assurances that there was nothing wrong with her candidacy. “There was a lot of problems of rumours and he did not tackle it. He waited too long. He did not believe the problem in the beginning and this questions his capacity.”

However, senior commission sources said it would have been “very difficult” for any president of the EU executive to tell the premier of any EU state that a foreign minister who was twice an MEP was incompetent or unacceptable.

Ms Jeleva, who rejected “rumours” about her husband’s business affairs and claims that her own declarations of interests were incomplete, said in her letter of resignation that she had “no hope of getting an impartial and objective assessment”.

Although she also resigned as foreign minister, prime minister Boiko Borisov told her to stay on.

European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek said Ms Georgieva’s confirmation hearing would be held on February 3rd with a vote on the new commission likely on February 9th, two days before an EU leaders’ summit on the economy.

This means the incoming commission will have scant time to prepare its contribution to the summit, an effort to find ways of giving new impetus to the union’s nascent economic recovery.

EPP chairman Joseph Daul said Ms Jeleva was the victim of a “pathetic little political war”.

Although incoming commissioners Olli Rehn, Neelie Kroes, Algirdas Semeta and Maros Sefcovic have yet to be ratified by MEPs, Mr Daul said it would not tolerate “scurrilous” attacks on any nominee. Socialist group leader Martin Schulz said Ms Jeleva’s decision was “inevitable and predictable”.