Wednesday

16th Jan 2019

Bulgaria nominates EU figure for commissioner

  • Mariya Gabriel, an MEP since 2009, lead the Bulgarian delegation of the center-right EPP party. (Photo: European Parliament)

It is official: Mariya Gabriel is the Bulgarian nominee to replace Kristalina Georgieva, who quit as EU commissioner for budgets and human resources in November. The long-awaited nomination finally came on Wednesday (10 May).

Gabriel is considered as the most high-ranking Bulgarian member of the European Parliament, to which she was elected in 2009.

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She heads the centre-right EPP group’s Bulgarian delegation and has been deputy chairman of a parliament body for relations with Maghreb countries and with the Arab Maghreb Union since 2014.

She forms a "power couple" with her husband Francois Gabriel, who is a close aide of EPP chairman Joseph Daul and who was also appointed earlier this year as foreign affairs adviser to the EU parliament president Antonio Tajani.

Despite her success in EU circles, Gabriel has not been active in Bulgarian internal politics and is less popular than her predecessor Georgieva, who was Bulgaria's candidate for UN secretary general last year and who was appointed as head of the World Bank in October.

Georgieva's resignation from the European Commission came just a week before the presidential election in Bulgaria, which was won by Rumen Radev, an independent candidate who received support from the then opposition - the Socialist Party.

Delayed nomination

As a consequence, the government resigned and Bulgaria fell into a political crisis, delaying the nomination of the country's new commissioner.

The caretaker government refused to choose a candidate arguing that the decision should be taken by an officially elected government.

After snap elections in March, a coalition between the centre-right Gerb party and the nationalist United Patriots formed a government with Boyko Borisov as prime minister for a third term.

Gabriel's nomination, more than six months after Georgieva's resignation, was one of the new government's first decisions.

The digital portfolio could be attributed to Gabriel, as it was the portfolio of the German commissioner, Guenther Oettinger, who replaced Georgieva as budget commissioner.

It would be important to Bulgaria and is one of the fastest-growing topics in the EU.

"Our country has a constantly growing pillar in the IT sphere and these responsibilities could play a key role. Even though we are aware that commissioners do not protect national interests", said Stefan Radov, an expert on EU affairs at Sofia University.

Difficult EU presidency

After the nomination of the new commissioner, one of the main challenges for the government will be Bulgaria's upcoming presidency of the Council of the European Union in the first half of 2018.

Liliyana Pavlova, a former minister of regional development and infrastructure, has been appointed as vice prime minister to oversee the EU job.

Various national institutions have requested more than €65 million from the government to prepare for the presidency. The main venue for EU meetings, the National Palace of Culture, is still under reconstruction.

The decision to nominate Gabriel was discussed carefully because of the need for clear communications and for support from the EU commission.

The next step in the appointment process is a job interview of Gabriel on Tuesday by commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

If it goes well, her portfolio and responsibilities will then be defined and a hearing at the European Parliament will be organised for her confirmation.

Bulgaria's election test

Sunday's general elections will be a test for the country's relations with the EU, Russia, and Turkey, as well as for the political future of former leader Borisov.

Focus

MEPs to grill youngest ever EU commissioner

Mariya Gabriel, a Bulgarian MEP, is designated to take up the EU commission's digital affairs portfolio, although she has little experience with that file.

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