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25th Feb 2024

German MEP challenges Suica on conflict of interest

  • 'Suica's reluctance to publish information about her property dating many years back reflects a persistent culture of secrecy of the political class in Croatia,' said one Croation NGO

Croatia's European Commission nominee, Dubravka Šuica, said on Thursday evening (3 October), during her grilling by MEPs for the post, that she will work "towards the rule of law and transparency".

However, Šuica has recently been criticised in her home country for a lack of transparency.

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Croatian NGO Gong told the EUobserver that members of the parliamentarian committees must ask her about "the issues she is avoiding answering to the Croatian public".

"If the EU wants to remain focused on making its governing institutions more transparent and democratic, then it is extremely important for such a high-ranking politician to be fully transparent," said Gong.

During her three-hour hearing, Šuica said that people have lost trust in institutions and she will work to better understand and underline the reasons behind that.

'Secret formula'?

According to her declaration to the Croatian parliament, the 62-year old former mayor of Dubrovnik and school teacher is worth more than €5m, Index.hr, a leading Croatian news website, has reported.

And Šuica did not deny the reports.

Back then she explained that some come from her husband's salary, which she repeated during her hearing.

"Twenty years ago I lived in my family house with my husband, who is a sea captain earning a decent salary," she told MEPs.

Šuica recently said that the amount reported by Croatian media (€5m) is "fake news".

However, the documents that could corroborate her account remain undisclosed.

Šuica herself said in the past that anyone interested could look at her old declarations archived in the Croatian Parliament committee.

However, the Croatian parliament is misusing the GDPR privacy regulations "to hide this information," Gong said.

During the hearing, German MEP Martin Sonneborn (non-attached) said that 20 years ago Šuica was a teacher in Dubrovnik with a clapped-out Renault, but when she entered politics her properties multiplied.

MEP Sonneborn asked her to share her secret formula for success with the rest of Europeans.

However, the chair of the constitutional affairs committee, Antonio Tajani, refused to allow the question.

"This is not about conflict of interest, focus on content," he said, adding that she has already been cleared by the legal affairs committee.

Šuica responded anyway saying that the stories about 20 years ago "are not true". But she said she will not enter in details.

Lack of transparency

"My declaration of interests was always transparent, open and according to the rules of the institution where I work", Šuica added.

However, declarations submitted to the EU parliament only deal with potential conflicts of interest with people's portfolios and do not give an exhaustive inventory of what they own.

"Those declarations are only one aspect of the commission's drive for greater transparency," says the institution.

"Šuica's reluctance to publish information about her property dating many years back reflects a persistent culture of secrecy of the political class in Croatia," said Gong.

Croatian prime minister Andrej Plenkovic has accused the NGO of campaigning against Šuica.

"Šuica got through the hearing before the Croatian parliament's committee on European affairs where members of the [opposition] Social Democratic Party (SDP) raised these topics which are now being recycled by Gong," Plenkovic told reporters last time he visited Brussels.

Brussels-based group Corporate Europe Observatory tweeted last week that "instead of attacking civil society for doing its job, the Croatian government should focus on clarifying the questions around the Croatian commissioner nominee".

Neutral about Hungary

In 2018, the European Parliament voted to start a sanctions procedure against Hungary for challenging EU rules and values on media freedom, migration, and rule of law dating back several years.

"I share the concern that there are severe breaches of rule of law there [in Hungary]," Šuica said in her grilling.

However, she was one of the few MEPs who voted against the motion that established penalties for Hungary - the so-called 'Article 7'.

"Our little delegation voted against the report. Hungary is a neighbouring country with whom we want to build good neighbourly relations," Šuica told local media in 2018.

Answering French centre-left MEP Raphaël Glucksmann, Šuica said that she would not condemn the Hungarian PM's declaration because she is not in a position to condemn anyone.

When the same sanctions were stated against Poland, she also voted against because the procedure was launched by the commission - an institution that should be always "neutral," Suica said during the hearing.

Gender rights

Liberals and central-left MEPs asked Šuica about her negative vote against two resolutions on gender equality in the EU parliament.

However, Šuica said that as a woman with a daughter and two grand-daughters, her negative vote was not related to gender rights but budgetary issues.

Esteban González Pons, a senior MEP from the European People's Party, supported Šuica during the hearing, saying that when MEPs criticise her votes they are also criticising the votes of the EPP group - the biggest in the parliament, he said.

When asked about abortion, Šuica said that "someone's private beliefs are not relevant to their job."

"The Union I will promote is the union of dignity, freedom, equality, rule of law, human rights. Non-discrimination, justice, solidarity. I will always stick to this, don't doubt my beliefs, convictions or my future activities," she told MEPs.

According to the EPP coordinator of the constitutional affairs committee, Danuta Hübner, Šuica "will make an excellent EU commissioner for democracy and demography".

But Green MEP Daniel Freund tweeted after the hearing that he has "serious doubts" that Šuica can represent the European values of rule of law, freedom, anti-corruption, federalism and sexual self-determination.

Opinion

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Helena Dall's biggest challenge as equality commissioner will be securing EU accession to the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence, while Dubravka Suica as demography commissioner must reassure on abortion and contraceptives.

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