A significant number of European Union countries have signalled to Sofia their support for Bulgaria’s current European Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva to be the bloc’s next foreign policy chief – but it remains to be seen whether the current cabinet will drop the ball and nominate someone else to the new Commission.
The nomination of Bulgaria’s European Commissioner, the third time the country is doing so since joining the EU in January 2007, is a vexed issue in domestic politics, especially after the Bulgarian Socialist Party – current holder of the mandate to govern – was thoroughly routed in the country’s May 25 2014 European Parliament elections.
Centre-right opposition GERB, holder of the largest number of seats in the National Assembly and also the victor in the EP elections by 11 percentage points, has insisted that the BSP defeat in May has deprived the current government of the moral right to nominate a Commissioner.
Bulgaria is to hold ahead-of-term national parliamentary elections on October 5 and the current cabinet is expected to be gone by the end of July.
However, the ruling axis has incensed GERB and other opposition forces, as well as anti-government protest circles, by seeking to rule from beyond the grave, making long-term appointments in spite of objections to it doing so.
Bulgaria’s European Commissioner is among the most, if not the most, significant of appointments that will be made.
Complicating matters is the repeated assertion that those now in power want to see through BSP leader Sergei Stanishev’s ambition to become Bulgaria’s new European Commissioner.
Stanishev is stepping down as BSP leader, although he intends remaining head of the “Coalition for Bulgaria” group that the BSP dominates, and also intends remaining leader of the EU-wide Party of European Socialists.
Reneging on an oft-repeated promise during the European Parliament election campaign, Stanishev has resigned his National Assembly seat to become an MEP. He has gained no posts of significance in the European Parliament – with committee chairpersonships now largely decided, only one Bulgarian has been elected to head a committee, former cabinet minister Iskra Mihailova, of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms (part of the liberal ALDE group), who has become chairperson of the regional development committee.
Last week, a day after reports that European Commission President-to-be Jean-Claude Juncker would create a new portfolio of Commissioner on Immigration, GERB leader Boiko Borissov said that he had heard that the plan was to nominate Stanishev to this portfolio.
On July 5, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Radio reported that Stanishev had denied that he would be nominated as the commissioner, adding that the BSP would not announce its position before any consultations and would stand behind nominations that were compelling.
To add to the complications around the question, there also have been reports of Bulgaria being put forward for the foreign policy chief job, to succeed the UK’s Catherine Ashton, but again that the nominee would be Stanishev.
The idea of Stanishev or anyone else but Kristalina Georgieva being put forward for the EU foreign policy job, however, runs counter to the messages that have been communicated to Sofia from a number of EU countries that Sofia would be well-advised to name Georgieva to succeed Ashton.
It is understood that countries that have sent this signal include France and the UK, as well as a range of other smaller members of the bloc, including Estonia and Luxembourg, Juncker’s home member state.
Another name being circulated for the foreign policy post is that of Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini. However, with expectations that the post of European Council President will go to a centre-left figure, this could disturb the balance among the four top posts in EU institutions – Juncker is from the centre-right and Martin Schulz, returned for two and a half years as European Parliament President, is from the Socialists and Democrats group.
A special European Council meeting is to be held on July 16, and Plamen Oresharski – placed in the prime minister’s chair in the BSP cabinet in May 2013 – has said he intends attending, to discuss the country’s European Commissioner nomination. This would be just a few days before his expected resignation.
Procedurally, it is legally within the power of the current cabinet to make the nomination, but a June 17 meeting of political party leaders convened by head of state President Rossen Plevneliev agreed, among other things, that there should be talks towards an agreement on “formulating clear principles and rules for nominating the Bulgarian EU Commissioner”.
It remains to be seen whether those currently holding power will defy the political reality of the BSP’s defeat and the lack of credibility of the government, to say nothing of the messages sent by important players elsewhere in the EU. Unconfirmed reports suggested that Oresharski had in mind nominating Zinaida Zlatanova, a former EC representative in Sofia who has been a member of the cabinet since May 2013, as the country’s commissioner – an option that would be underwhelming, to say the least, in comparison to Georgieva.
Since 2009, when Georgieva was handed the humanitarian aid and crisis response portfolio in the European Commission, she has built up wide respect in the bloc for her performance. This comes on top of her impressive CV, which includes senior World Bank experience. Given her resume, it is hardly surprising that Georgieva also has been mentioned as a possible contender for the UN Secretary General post when this comes up in 2017.
The fact of coming from one of the bloc’s smaller countries, not only in size but in influence within the EU, would be an advantage within the broader politics of the workings of the EU, but again one that would require the character of Georgieva rather than substantially weaker candidates.
Tomislav Donchev, a former cabinet minister who was elected as an MEP in May on the number one spot on the GERB ticket, said on July 6 that the least that the current cabinet could do by the end of its term of office would be to declare national support for Georgieva.
Donchev said that the current cabinet should not throw away the chance for the Bulgarian member of the European Commission to have as high a post as possible. This could achieved by nominating Georgieva, and by no other means, he said.
Elsewhere, European Parliament vice president Ulrike Lunacek, a member of the Greens group, has publicly called for Georgieva to succeed Ashton, praising Georgieva’s performance in her current portfolio and adding that a successful EU foreign policy chief should bring to the post experience, competence and connections, EurActiv reported, quoting an interview Lunacek gave to APA.
(Photo of Georgieva: EC Audiovisual Service)