Three hours of questioning by three European Parliament committees saw Bulgaria’s Kristalina Georgieva, designated vice-president for budget and human resources in the forthcoming Jean-Claude European Commission, turn in a polished performance, strong on promises of accountability and transparency – and even with quick touches of humour.
MEPs from the European Parliament’s committees on the budget, budgetary affairs and legal affairs put questions to Georgieva on a wide range of issues, particularly on effective use of the EU’s budget, vexed questions about the multi-annual financial framework, and specific matters such as gender balance and climate change and how she would administer the bloc’s budget to address these.
A European Commissioner since early 2010, Georgieva also responded to some questions citing her experience in the humanitarian affairs portfolio – indicating, at one point, that inefficient use of funds can mean that people die.
In opening remarks, Georgieva underline her view on the importance of deploying resources to be able to fulfil promises, aligning resources with priorities and delivering the best possible performance.
The EU budget had the power to assist economy recovery and show the EU to be a force for good, said Georgieva, adding that the “thousand billion euro” budget for the next seven years should deliver jobs, growth and a better quality of life.
Georgieva underlined that the EU budget had a direct impact on the lives of people, giving the example of the 600 000 people employed in projects funded through the cohesion policy.
She pledged to fight against the misuse of funds, noting that there was still a long way to compliance with the rules. Later, she added that she would have “zero, zero, zero tolerance for abuses, and if there was a figure for less than zero, I would say it”.
Georgieva also pointed out that actual abuse made up a very small fraction of misspent money.
She vowed support for a strong, independent and well-resourced OLAF, the EU’s anti-fraud agency, saying that fraud amounted not only to stealing from EU taxpayers but also damaged the whole EU project.
“I am proud of our Union and very honoured to stand for office to serve it,” said Georgieva, who frequently added into her answers the rider, “if I am confirmed” – even though in the wider politics of the EU and the deals around the forthcoming Juncker Commission, her nomination is unlikely to have raised any misgivings.
Answering questions about changing the gender mix and ensuring higher targeted representation at medium to senior levels at the EC, Georgieva said that addressing gender issues through the budget was “not about feminism but about productivity”, conveying the notion that it meant widening the talent base.
Asked why she had been nominated, Georgieva said that this was a question for Juncker, but essayed her own answer.
She said that when she had been offered the post, her hair had “stood straight up, it’s a good thing I have short hair”.
But having thought the matter through, she said, she concluded that she had been chosen for two good reasons, her track record in overseeing funding at World Bank institutions, as well as her track record as a commissioner. “I also work very hard, I think that would help.”
Georgieva also faced some Euroskeptic questions, such as from UKIP’s Jonathan Arnott, who at one point asked her for her position on the “travelling circus” of the European Parliament and its oscillation between its two official seats. Arnott also asked her for her view on cuts to the “bloated” number of EU staff, which he said outnumbered the British army.
“I am getting worried about the size of the British army,” responded Georgieva, earning resounding applause and laughter, and then adding that the issue of the seat of the European Parliament was fixed in the bloc’s treaty and it was a matter for the treaty partners to decide – not her.
She went on to speak about performance budgeting, noting that it was not easy because it required measuring not just spending but the outcome of spending. The risk was that the measure would be of what was easy to measure, rather than that which was important.
Later, when Arnott asked whether she held that there were some areas of spending that should be in local hands rather than those of Brussels, Georgieva said that she firmly believed that power should be at the lowest level where it could be executed successfully.
But, she said, there were some areas where the collective was much stronger, underlining that the EU had to compete with economies such as China and the US – and added the example that the UK would hardly be well off trying to compete on its own.
Further on, asked where she would cut the EU budget, Georgieva said that this was not her role because the budget was the result of very intense negotiations, and her job was to ensure that it was implemented in the best way possible.
To Louis Aliot of France’s euroskeptic Front National, Georgieva said she was well aware that there were those in Europe who saw freedom of movement as a problem, “but we do have to look at the benefits of freedom of movement,” which she said were significant, and returned to the theme of building a European economy big and strong enough to compete.
“We are still the biggest economy in the world,” she said, but that share was shrinking and its people would not have a great life unless that trend was reversed.
In closing remarks, Georgieva told MEPs, “I’ll be your partner in the next five years”, saying that she thought of herself as servant of the people.
“None of us can individually provide the very best service to our people, but together we can, and we will,” Georgieva said, drawing applause from most of those present.