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10th Dec 2018

Romanian nominee for EU commission job sparks questions

European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso has postponed confirmation of Romania's surprise nominee to join his team, with socialist MEPs warning they would be "tough" in screening the candidate they say is known for being "on the payroll of big economic tycoons."

Both candidates for new EU commissioners from the newest member states met Mr Barroso on Thursday (25 October) but only Bulgaria's Meglena Kuneva, currently the country's Europe minister, received the official green light.

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Ms Kuneva will be responsible for the consumer protection portfolio in the 27-strong college, an area which Cypriot commissioner Markos Kyprianou oversees at the moment along with health issues which will now become his sole task.

"Consumer protection is central to the European citizen's agenda and while we have achieved a lot for Europe's consumers already, there is a substantial work ahead which I am sure Ms Kuneva can take forward," Mr Kyprianou said.

However, after Thursday's discussions, Mr Barroso said talks with Bucharest on its nomination of Varujan Vosganian - a liberal senator and keen free market promoter - were "ongoing."

The commission was reportedly taken aback by the surprise nomination as Mr Vosganian did not previously feature among the mooted candidates and is currently linked to an internal Romanian government row, according to the Financial Times.

The tension has also risen a notch following a statement by two prominent socialist MEPs - Hannes Swoboda and Jan Marinus Wiersma - who argue that the Romanian nominee is "unknown" in European circles and his background should be closely "explored."

"What is known is that he has been very much on the right-wing of politics and on the payroll of big economic tycoons," said the deputies, referring to Mr Vosganian's business contacts and noting that they would strive to prevent the commission's push to the right.

But Romanian leader Calin Popescu Tariceanu defended his candidate for the Brussels job and pointed out that the socialists' claims were pure speculation.

"They said they will have a fair attitude towards all candidates for the position of European commissioner and there is no need to view this matter from the perspective of political groups within the European Parliament," said Mr Tariceanu.

Mr Vosganian's nomination has also been marred by Romanian media speculation he collaborated with Soviet-era secret police, the Securitate, while Turkish press writes the ethnic Armenian's prominent role in recent Armenia genocide memorials is causing ripples in Ankara.

The European Parliament will be involved in confirming the two new commissioners, with the date of the vote on their nomination - before or after the countries' January 2007 accession - remaining unclear.

The plenary vote will be preceded by hearings where MEPs will grill the would-be commissioner on issues both directly connected to their portfolios and their general opinions and political and economic thinking.

Tough screening by MEPs in 2004 lead to a couple of nominee changes before Mr Barroso's commission was approved, with the most notorious case being the removal of the Italian candidate, Rocco Buttiglione, for his controversial statements on the role of women in society and on gays.

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