13th Apr 2024

Second Bulgarian commissioner awarded European of the Year

  • Kristalina Georgieva was awarded European of the Year. (Photo:

Bulgaria's EU commissioner Kristalina Georgieva was named European of the Year on Tuesday (30 November) at European Voice's annual awards ceremony in Brussels. She was also voted European commissioner of the year.

Ms Georgieva, 57, a former World Bank vice-president who is now in charge of Europe's international co-operation, humanitarian aid and crisis response, followed in the footsteps of previous Bulgarian commissioner Meglena Kuneva, who won the European of the Year award in 2008. Ms Kuneva was in charge of consumer protection and was Bulgaria's first commissioner.

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European Voice is a Brussels-based weekly owned by the Economist group, which focuses on EU coverage. Its readers chose the award winners by voting online between 23 nominees divided into five categories. As well as Ms Georgieva, European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet won EU Official of the Year and British prime minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg shared the prize for National Politician of the Year.

Ms Georgieva was Bulgaria's last-minute candidate for the commission in January after her country's first nominee, former foreign minister Rumiana Jeleva, failed her confirmation hearing and the European Parliament threatened to withhold approval for the whole college of commissioners.

"Last to be nominated, [Ms] Georgieva has outperformed many of her fellow commissioners," European Voice said in her nomination paper. "She has mastered her dossier and proved authoritative and competent. Her humanitarian aid office had to respond to disasters for Haiti and Pakistan."

"Ms Georgieva became a European commissioner almost by accident, but since February she has clearly impressed many people," said European Voice editor Tim King.

"Those who voted for us, and especially those who voted for us in Bulgaria, have set the bar higher for the future Bulgarian commissioners. They will have to jump high," said Ms Georgieva, referring to both herself and Ms Kuneva. "I am the commissioner with the best job because what I do is to act on the most precious of European values – solidarity with people in need.

"But I am also the commissioner with the worst job, because there is so much pain and suffering around the world. We are in the 21st century and there should be no kid going to bed hungry. . .and millions do. I want to pledge that I would work as hard as I can to be there, where Europe is needed."

Ms Georgieva told WAZ.EUobserver that she was heading to Haiti, which has been devastated by earthquakes and hurricanes, next week to address the spread of a cholera epidemic that has killed more than 2,000 people.

She is the second World Bank employee called in by Bulgarian prime minister Boiko Borisov after finance minister Simeon Djankov. Ms Georgieva reflects a Bulgarian tradition of finding leaders from abroad when domestic politicians fail.

Before her commission nomination, the media had declared her a favourite of Mr Borisov for the job of deputy prime minister. She later repeatedly had to deny speculations that she would run in Bulgaria's 2011 presidential elections and has so far steered clear of her country's acidic political environment.

Ms Georgieva, a macroeconomist, rose to become World Bank vice-president and corporate secretary in 2008 from a professorship in Sofia's University of National and World Economy in the late 1980s. She joined the World Bank in 1993 following a Fulbright fellowship in the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US.

She held a number of technical and managerial positions in operations and in environmental and sustainable development, until heading the bank's entire environmental policy in 1998. Her responsibilities at that time included running projects worth a total of $11 billion.

She was also in charge of the bank's activities in Russia. Her responsibilities evolved hand-in-hand with her academic career, which included a string of guest-lecturer engagements across the world, including Harvard and Yale.

Ms Georgieva has carefully kept her private life – a husband and daughter – out of the public spotlight. Human interest stories in the press have described her as a Beatles fan, an amateur guitar player and a passionate traveller.

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