Monday

22nd Jan 2018

Fire-walking EU commissioner clears path for Juncker

The Hilton hotel bar in Strasbourg was the scene of some celebrations on Monday evening (20 October).

At one table, the Slovene commissioner-to-be, Violeta Bulc, was celebrating with those who had helped her swot up on EU transport policy over the past five days.

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Incoming EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker dropped by at one point to congratulate her. Jyrki Katainen, who will be in charge of raising €300 billion in EU investments, also took part in the back-slapping.

They had good reasons to be content.

Last week, it was not at all obvious that the businesswoman, who has had very little political experience, would pass the European Parliament's grilling.

A further delay, after MEPs rejected the initial Slovenian commissioner candidate, would have meant Juncker and his team of commissioner could not have taken office on 1 November, as planned.

But MEPs in the transport committee on Monday were clearly not after Bulc. Nobody asked her about her lack of political experience. Nor about her training as a shaman and fire-walker.

"Frankly I did expect tougher questions and I was prepared for them," Bulc said in a press conference after her hearing. She added she was "glad it's over" and that she gave it her all.

"You have all learned that I can walk on fire. A couple of times I thought I would burn, but I didn't," she told MEPs in her closing remarks.

As for policy answers, she admitted a few times that she has to study more, but said she is determined to make transport policy a solution to the EU's growth problems. She mentioned the maritime sector as a growing one and said she wanted to look at ways to make it hire more young people.

"To sum up my future agenda in one word, it's 'people'," she said, noting that transport is an ageing sector where female workers are still in low numbers.

She also pledged to be strong against social dumping and a promoter of environmentally-friendly means of transport.

"I am a very devoted cyclist. If you come to Slovenia, you'll see ministers in big cars and me behind, on my bike," she said.

But she noted she "loves to fly" and mentioned one airport on a Scottish island that she enjoyed going to.

No MEP seized the opportunity to ask her why she was going there - for a course in shamanism - because by that time, most MEPs had either left or tuned out.

Deputies are to decide on Tuesday if they think Bulc is fit to be commissioner in charge of transport policy.

In a parallel hearing, Slovak commissioner Maros Sefcovic, who was promoted to vice-president in charge of the "energy union", also sailed through, with MEPs expected to pronounce their verdict on Tuesday.

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