Wednesday

21st Oct 2020

MEPs again reject Romanian, Hungarian 'commissioners'

  • Romania's Rovana Plumb (c) fell by the wayside over a personal loan (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The European parliament's legal committee has reconfirmed in a vote on Monday (30 September) that it finds Hungary's and Romania's commissioner-designates unfit for office due to conflicts of interests.

MEPs had already voted last Thursday to block the confirmation process of Hungary's Laszlo Trocsanyi and Romania's Rovana Plumb.

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But the president of the European parliament, David Sassoli asked MEPs for clarifications after the committee's letter did not give him clear recommendations on the next steps.

Some MEPs, meeting on Monday, were upset that they were asked to vote again on the commissioner-designates and initially voted down the agenda proposing the renewed vote.

Eventually, MEPs voted again with a clear majority against both candidates, and a letter will be sent to Sassoli saying the committee concluded that the commissioner-designates are "unable to exercise his or her functions".

In Trocsanyi's case (nominated to take charge of the EU's enlargement), MEPs voted 12 in favour of blocking him against 9, because of concerns over government contracts awarded to a law firm, that Trocsanyi founded previously during his tenure as justice minister.

Plumb, a former Romanian labour and EU funds minister, was blocked with 13 votes against 7, over two problematic loans that raised suspicions of corruption.

It is the first time the legal committee has blocked commissioner-designates, under new rules to check commissioners' possible conflict of interests that came into force in 2017.

Over to von der Leyen

It is now up to commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen to decide what to do next - but simply changing the portfolios of the two commissioner-designates will not be enough.

It means Hungary and Romania will have to put forward new candidates. Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban last Friday said he has "second, third and fourth solutions" to this issue.

In a statement, Trocsanyi angrily dismissed the procedure, saying the "blatant injustice, the lack of transparency, the clear and deliberate violations of the rules of law and procedure" reminded him of "a time that I thought was over".

Orban's government meantime said that "the pro-immigration parties" blocked Trocsanyi because he oversaw legislation closing down Hungary's borders.

The vote took place a few hours before MEPs start grilling the other commissioner-designates on von der Leyen's proposed team later on Monday.

Von der Leyen, whose own position as the commission president-elect was only confirmed by a slim majority in the parliament, faces a tough fight, and Monday's vote means an early defeat.

Trocsanyi is from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), just as is von der Leyen, while Plumb hails from the ruling Romanian Social Democrats - meaning the two biggest parties in the parliament have both lost a commissioner.

Pressure will pile on the liberals, the third party in the political coalition backing von der Leyen, whose French candidate, Sylvie Goulard who has an ongoing investigation by the EU's anti-fraud agency into the misuse of funds, although she already paid back €45,000.

The legal committee Monday meeting was an overture to the political battles over the candidates as some MEPs complained of political pressure.

"It was a very weird meeting, in which we have been asked again to vote on something we did vote last week, we feel like its been a push for a new vote," MEP Manon Aubry said after the meeting.

"In which democracy MPs are forced to vote until a desired result is achieved? The imposition of a second vote, after the earlier rejection, is unacceptable," she later said in a tweet.

"For me, it is important, that the democratic decision we made last week has been reconfirmed, I think democratic decisions should be taken once and finally, I see this clarification of the decision was already made," Green co-chair of the committee, Sergey Lagodinsky said.

Other would-be commissioners have been cleared over the weekend.

A corruption probe against Belgium's liberal Didier Reynders was closed on Friday.

The EU's anti-fraud office, Olaf, also on Friday, closed its investigation into alleged misuse of EU funds by Polish nominee Janusz Wojciechowski, who will take on the agriculture portfolio.

Spain's Josep Borrell, named to become the EU's foreign policy chief, was fined €30,000 last year for insider trading.

Aubry, from the radical left group in parliament, later tweeted about her dissatisfaction that while the legal affairs is tasked with vetting the commissioner candidates, it does not have sufficient powers to investigate.

"Only two commissioners from eastern Europe have been concerned [Plumb and Trocsanyi)], while heavyweights from western Europe have been well protected," she said.

MEPs block Romanian and Hungarian 'commissioners'

In an unprecedented move, MEPs in the legal affairs committee said there were conflicts of interests for two commissioner-designates. Commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen will now have to decide what to do with them.

New Romanian commissioner completes line-up, bar UK

Ursula von der Leyen has chosen Alina Valean to be Romania's new commissioner. She will get the transport portfolio, putting an end to speculation that Hungary might lose the enlargement portfolio.

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