Friday

3rd Jul 2020

MEPs block Romanian and Hungarian 'commissioners'

The European Parliament's legal affairs committee found conflicts of interests with the commissioner designates from Romania and Hungary on Thursday (26 September) and blocked their nomination procedure.

It means that Rovana Plumb, nominated for the transport portfolio, and Laszlo Trocsanyi, nominated to be enlargement commissioner, cannot proceed to the next phase of the hearings at the European Parliament.

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  • Rovana Plumb (left, with Austrian minister for tourism and sustainability, Elisabeth Kostinger) at an earlier council meeting (Photo: Council of the European Union)

The legal committee's rejection is unprecedented and is a result of new parliament rules.

According to those new rules, before commissioner-designates are grilled by the relevant policy committee, they have to be vetted by the legal committee for possible conflict of interests.

As a next move, the legal committee's chair, a liberal MEP from Britain, Lucy Nethsingha, will write a letter to European parliament president David Sassoli with the committee's recommendation on how to proceed. Sassoli will inform EU commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen.

"The ball is in now von der Leyen's court," the committee's vice-chair Green MEP Sergey Lagodinsky said after the meeting.

But there are no clear deadlines.

Von der Leyen could decide to ask for new people to be nominated by the two countries, or try to push them through by reshuffling the portfolios, or alternatively have the candidates renounce their financial interests in question.

Plumb, from Romania's ruling socialist party, and Trocsanyi, former justice minister in Viktor Orban's government, were the only two commissioners-designates asked by MEPs to clarify their financial statements in person.

In the committee, 15 MEPs voted to block Plumb, while six voted in favour of her, with two abstentions. The Trocsanyi vote was tighter: 11 MEPs voted against him, nine in favour, with two abstentions.

MEPs leaving Thursday's meeting were tight-lipped on the concrete reasons for rejecting the two candidates.

In Plumb's case, there had been discrepancies between her declaration of assets made in Romania and in the EU, and she did not declare two loans worth nearly €1m in her original financial declaration.

She has also borrowed €170,000, which she gave to her party for financing the European elections campaign, according to Romanian media.

MEPs were meanwhile concerned over possible ties between a law firm founded by Trocsanyi, and his role as former justice minister.

In a statement, Trocsanyi said that since he had been on leave of absence at the firm since his appointment as a constitutional court judge in 2007, and receives no payment from the firm.

In 2018, he also withdrew his share in the firm and said the company declined all government work during his tenure as justice minister.

The committee's move means the political clash over the new commission-designates has started before the actual hearings, which are due to kick off next week.

"What this means, for now, is that the procedure is suspended," commission spokeswoman, Mina Andreeva, said.

The decision by MEPs to block the candidates means a blow to Hungarian leader Viktor Orban, who pushed Trocsanyi even though as justice minister he oversaw several legal bills challenged by the EU commission for breaking EU rules.

Jozsef Szajer, an MEP from Orban's Fidesz, and a member of the legal affairs committee called the decision a "political witchhunt", and said leftwing, pro-migration forces are behind the "nefarious", and "unfair" procedure.

He said Trocsanyi was responsible for Hungarian legislation that stopped migration.

Trocsanyi hits back

Trocsanyi himself also reacted with a statement saying that he has "answered all questions asked of me in a transparent fashion, in complete harmony with the documents previously submitted."

He added that "a political decision was made lacking any factual basis, and I fully intend to take all necessary legal steps against it."

Romania's socialist-led government has also been criticised by the commission for rolling back on the fight against corruption.

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