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20th May 2019

Slovenian saga may delay Juncker commission

  • Jean-Claude Juncker is on the phone 'almost all the time' to EP and Slovenian leaders (Photo: European Peoples Party, EPP)

The withdrawal of the Slovenian commission candidate clears the way for a new nominee, but the Juncker team is still at risk of being delayed.

After days of high-drama, rumours and humiliations in the European Parliament, Slovenia's Alenka Bratusek on Thursday (9 October) told Jean-Claude Juncker she is withdrawing her candidacy.

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In a statement published Thursday afternoon, Juncker said he has "a lot of respect" for her decision to quit.

"Her decision reflects her commitment to the European Union, to Slovenia, and to the democratic process," Juncker said.

"With her decision, she is helping me to finalise the composition of the European Commission, together with the European Parliament and the Council".

Juncker said he is in "close contact" with the Slovenian prime minister, Miro Cerar, and the leadership of the European Parliament on this matter.

His spokesman Margaritis Schinas earlier in the day said Juncker is in "almost permanent contact", which is mostly done over an "old-fashioned GSM".

Schinas said there was a "risk" of delay of the new commission which should take office - 1 November.

The Slovenian government has promised to send a new name by Friday, but according to Slovenian media, as of Thursday afternoon, the coalition parties were not able to agree on whom to put forward.

Even if the name is made public on Friday, it will leave the candidate and the European Parliament only one week to prepare and hold the extra hearing.

And with possible portfolio tweaks being currently negotiated between Juncker and the EP leadership, sticking to the initial plan of voting the entire commission on 22 October appears increasingly difficult.

As for Bratusek's replacement, one thing is clear - it has to be a woman. The European Parliament has repeatedly warned it would veto any commission with fewer than nine female commissioners. There are only eight other female commissioner candidates apart from Bratusek.

The Socialists in the European Parliament on Thursday made their choice clear - Tanja Fajon, a Socialist MEP.

"Given that there will not be much time to prepare for the hearing, why not send someone who is already prepared and competent, Tanja Fajon?" said Gianni Pitella, head of the Socialists, during a press conference.

The centre-right European People's Party also backs Fajon, another sign of the "grand coalition" at work in the European assembly.

"The EPP group will only support a woman candidate with experience. The list of the Slovenian government last summer included, for example, Tanja Fajon MEP. She would match this request perfectly," Manfred Weber, head of the EPP group, said in an emailed statement.

He added that it was important for the commission to "start working as soon as possible" and for the Slovenian government to avoid a "second failure".

But Slovenian PM Cerar has "firmly rejected" these calls from the EP and pointed out that it's up to his government to decide, not the political groups in the EP.

Cerar, whose party is not affiliated at EU level but would most likely join the EU Liberals, wants the new candidate to be from his own party.

The EP backing for Fajon comes amid media speculation that Cerar may pick Violeta Bulc, who has been a minister for less than a month.

Meanwhile, Bulc has attracted attention for her personal blog, in which she sets out new age beliefs on "the power of networks, holistic individuals, and positive energy", as well as her admiration for an artist who works with white lions.

Slovene commission nominee to be sent home

MEPs are Wednesday to decide on the five commissioners who failed to get the green light after parliamentary hearings, with the Slovene nominee set for the axe.

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Birth of the Juncker commission

Reasons for delay abounded: not enough women, an east-west row over the next foreign affairs chief and a Slovenian minidrama. Still, the Juncker commission took office as planned, on 1 November.

Timmermans calls for left-wing coalition at debate

The centre-right's Manfred Weber got most of the heat at the EU Commission presidential candidates' final debate before the European elections, while Frans Timmermans reached out to a possible coalition partners - piling more pressure on Weber's EPP.

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