Plamen Oresharski, occupant of the prime minister’s chair in the Bulgarian Socialist Party cabinet, said on July 16 that Bulgaria would support the nomination of Kristalina Georgieva to be the next European Union foreign policy chief.
Oresharski was speaking in Brussels as EU leaders met to discuss the allocation of top posts in EU institutions, including naming a foreign policy chief to succeed Catherine Ashton and discussing who could be the next European Council President.
The position taken by Oresharski, nominal head of a government that is expected to resign in the next few weeks, not only came somewhat belatedly after several influential EU leaders made clear their support for a Georgieva candidacy, but also was in contradiction to the position taken a few hours earlier by Sergei Stanishev, outgoing leader of the BSP and leader of the Party of European Socialists. Stanishev had declined to endorse a bid by Georgieva, who is identified with the centre-right political spectrum.
Soon before the European Council special meeting began in Brussels on July 16, Oresharski told reporters that he supported a bid by Georgieva “and will do what depends on me.” He said that he had not been mandated to nominate Georgieva but would support the nomination of her to become the new EU foreign policy chief, a position which carries with a vice-presidency of the European Commission.
Oresharski said that a decision on the foreign policy chief post would depend not solely on Georgieva’s personal qualifications but also on how positions were shared out among the various political groups at EU level.
Georgieva has been Bulgaria’s European Commissioner since 2009, nominated to that post by the centre-right GERB government of the time.
Since the thrashing dealt out to the Bulgarian Socialist Party in Bulgaria’s May 2014 European Parliament elections, GERB leader Boiko Borissov, currently head of the National Assembly’s largest party and seen as having the best chances of taking the most votes in October early elections, has been insisting that the current ruling axis has forfeited the moral right to name Bulgaria’s next European Commissioner.
Borissov repeatedly has urged naming Georgieva as the Bulgarian candidate for the Commission and has underlined that in this way, the country had a strong chance of a significant portfolio.
There has been a lack of clarity for weeks on who would be Bulgaria’s nominee, especially against a background of repeated reports that Stanishev was hoping for a European Commission portfolio and also reports that candidates considerably weaker than Georgieva were being considered, such as two members of the current cabinet, Kristian Vigenin and Zinaida Zlatanova.
In her time in the European Commission, Georgieva has built up considerable levels of respect and credibility.
Against a background of Oresharski admitting that he had no mandate to nominate Georgieva, and the dissent within the now-crumbling edifice of the ruling axis in Bulgaria – to say nothing of reports that the tide could be turning in favour of handing the EU foreign policy portfolio to the bloc’s left-wing, meaning it could go to the Italian candidate Federica Mogherini.
There have been international media reports of misgivings about Mogherini not only for her lack of experience but also because she is seen as unlikely to satisfy EU member states that want to see an assertive stance in relations with Russia.
Should what was expected to be a long night fail to see success for Georgieva, the result likely would be further wrangling among the parties represented in the National Assembly, due to be prorogued on August 6, about who Bulgaria’s nominee for the European Commission should be. Oresharski did not rule out the possibility that if Georgieva did not get the foreign policy post, she might still be Bulgaria’s candidate for the next European Commission.
The hours ahead of the European Council meeting saw the interesting spectacle of Oresharski straying in regard to the party on the basis of whose mandate he was appointed to the cabinet post. Oresharski reportedly did not attend a meeting of centre-left leaders hosted by Stanishev before the European Council but instead held talks with Jean-Claude Juncker, approved in a July 15 vote by the European Parliament to be the next European Commission President. Reportedly, he claimed that he missed the centre-left meeting because he was delayed coming from an important government meeting.
Generally, a form of balance is sought in sharing out the top jobs in EU institutions. Juncker was the nominee of the centre-right EU-wide European People’s Party, which won the largest single share of votes in the European Parliament elections. The man he defeated in the European Commission President race, Martin Schulz, of the group of socialists and democrats, was returned to a second term as European Parliament President – for two and a half years – in a deal between the centre-right and socialists.
It remains unclear who will be the European Council President and even whether EU leaders will achieve agreement on that on the night of July 16.
Other factors being taken into account in dealing out the jobs are gender balance, which has led to wide expectations that the foreign policy job would be given to a woman – a factor acting in favour of both the Italian and the Bulgarian. Further factors generally taken into account are geographical distribution and the interests of long-standing and newer EU member states.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels, PES leader Stanishev, an MEP, declined to clarify who he would support if the choice came down to deciding between the socialist Italian and the Bulgarian Georgieva.
Local media quoted Stanishev as saying that for Bulgaria it would be better if the next European Commission had more socialists. Bulgaria would only benefit if there was change within the EC, Stanishev reportedly said.