Will Bulgaria bet against the house in the European Commission stakes?

In the hours ahead of the July 16 meeting of European Union leaders to discuss top posts in the new European Commission, it remained unclear whether Bulgaria’s ruling axis would back the potentially strongest candidate, Kristalina Georgieva or field a considerably weaker nominee, claimed to be foreign minister Kristian Vigenin, as the country’s Commissioner.

There have been numerous reports in international media saying that Bulgaria’s Georgieva, who has held the humanitarian aid and crisis response portfolio in the European Commission since 2009, is strongly backed in several quarters of the EU to take over as EU foreign policy chief from Catherine Ashton in November.

But Bulgaria’s current cabinet, expected to resign by the end of July to make way for early elections against a background of the electoral failures of the Bulgarian Socialist Party, had by the morning of July 16 made no decision on the nomination.

With Georgieva seen as a centre-right figure, the left-wing in the Bulgarian government has been mulling other options in spite of the clear signals sent to Sofia from other EU governments about their backing for Georgieva to take the foreign policy portfolio, one of the bloc’s most senior posts, which brings with a European Commission vice-presidency.

Centre-right GERB opposition leader Boiko Borissov first claimed that those in power would try to put forward outgoing BSP leader Sergei Stanishev, then said on July 15 that there would be a bid to nominate Vigenin, the former MEP who has held Bulgaria’s foreign policy portfolio since May 2013 and is a relative lightweight.

Reports in the Bulgarian-language media on the eve of the special European Council meeting to discuss the top posts said that Plamen Oresharski, occupant of the prime minister’s chair in the BSP cabinet, would seek an assurance from European Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker that were Georgieva to be nominated, she would be assured to be given the EU foreign policy job.

If there was no such assurance on Georgieva, Bulgaria’s nominee would be Vigenin. In this case, informed observers regarded it as likely that Bulgaria would be handed a portfolio of vastly lesser significance.

The international reports that suggested that Georgieva had strong backing said that the growing consensus around her was based on the complexities in the EU’s relationship with Russia after Moscow’s illegal actions in Ukraine.

Italian foreign minister Federica Mogherini is frequently mentioned in reports as a frontrunner for the EU foreign policy chief post, but in several EU capitals there have been misgivings about her attitude to Putin’s Moscow, seen as too conciliatory.

Italy is reported to have stepped up its campaign to win backing for Mogherini, and Baltic state EU member countries and Poland have diluted their opposition to her.

A concern for Bulgaria is that if it does not come up with a credible candidate and push this candidacy as soon as possible, it may lose out as deals are made on European Commission portfolios.

Borissov said that were the nominee to be Vigenin, this would be the “comic version” and Bulgaria would face humiliation.

At the same time, reports suggested that the main discussions in Brussels, due to begin over dinner, would be about the posts of European Council President and EU foreign policy chief, and other posts were likely to be discussed only much further down the road.

According to a report by news agency Reuters, Italy was prepared to push the foreign policy chief appointment to a formal vote, as the UK’s David Cameron sought in the contest over the European Commission Presidency.

On July 16, euronews said that Mogherini was seen as the frontrunner for the EU foreign policy job, reporting European Parliament socialist political group leader Gianni Pittella as dismissing criticism of Mogherini as ill-founded and describing her as “someone of experience and authority”.

The same day, a BBC report from Brussels also named Mogherini as among the strongest contenders to succeed Ashton.

(Photo of Georgieva: EC Audiovisual Service)

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Clive Leviev-Sawyer

Clive Leviev-Sawyer is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of The Sofia Globe. He is the author of the book Bulgaria: Politics and Protests in the 21st Century (Riva Publishers, 2015), and co-author of the book Bulgarian Jews: Living History (The Organization of the Jews in Bulgaria 'Shalom', 2018). He is also the author of Power: A Political Novel, available via amazon.com, and, on the lighter side, Whiskers And Other Short Tales of Cats (2021), also available via Amazon. He has translated books and numerous texts from Bulgarian into English.