Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Political past may haunt commission nominees

A handful of nominees for the new EU executive could find themselves under fire over past associations with Communism, after the centre-right in the European Parliament indicated it will take a tough line on the issue in upcoming hearings.

The European People's Party - the largest grouping in the chamber - said in a declaration last week that nominees "must under no circumstances have been associated with oppressive regimes and must not have participated in non-democratic governments or political movements."

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

The statement has been widely interpreted as meaning the EPP will try to block former Communists or Communist sympathisers from joining the EU executive when MEPs vet candidates next year.

It is unclear where the EPP will draw the line.

Centre-right MEPs have said they will not start a "witch-hunt" over youthful experiments, with Jose Manuel Barroso, the conservative European Commission president, himself a one-time Maoist and a leader of the underground Communist Party of the Portuguese Workers/Revolutionary Movement of the Portuguese Proletariat (PCTP/MRPP).

The proviso may also exempt the EU's new centre-left foreign minister, Catherine Ashton, who was in the 1970s and 1980s a member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), became its treasurer in 1980 and represented the group at Communist Party meetings, according to a recent report in the right-wing Daily Mail newspaper.

Ms Ashton has been forced to defend herself following allegations that the Kremlin bank-rolled the CND. Prague's former Europe minister, Alexandr Vondra, has called for an investigation.

Czech MEP Hynek Fajmon, who sits with the UK-Tory-aligned European Conservatives and Reformists grouping in the parliament, said: "Everyone knows that the Kremlin supported CND. It was the fifth column of the Soviet Union in the West."

Her spokesman, Lutz Guellner, said that Ms Ashton's time as an anti-nuclear campaigner was merely a youthful indiscretion: "Like any young person in the late 70s, Ms Ashton was involved in the big campaigns of the time."

"During her time in CND, she never visited the Soviet Union. She had no contact with the Soviet Union and never accepted any money from Soviet sources," he said. "She has never been a member of the Communist Party."

The Hungarian nominee, Laszlo Andor, may also attract EPP attention, with Euro-deputies from Fidesz, Hungary's right-wing opposition party, having said that he is "unacceptable."

Mr Andor was an anti-Stalinist socialist, who, according to one Hungarian diplomat, was once close to the Hungarian Communist Party but was never a member.

Currently an economist and board member of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, he remains a committed leftist and is editor-in-chief of Eszmelet (Consciousness), which right-wing daily HetiVelasz describes as a "neo-Marxist" periodical, but which Hungarian diplomats describe as "more like Le Monde Diplomatique," the left-wing French newspaper owned by Le Monde.

But it is not thought that Fidesz will attack Mr Andor as keenly as it did his predecessor, former Communist official Laszlo Kovacs, as it risks undermining Hungary's chances at a decent portfolio.

No school for spies

Meanwhile, the Czech Republic's nominee, Stefan Fuele, who is currently the country's European affairs minister, was once a member of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, as was Slovakia's nominee and its current commissioner, Maros Sefcovic.

The pair were students at the prestigious Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), the diplomatic school of the Russian foreign ministry. In Soviet times, admission to the MGIMO was largely reserved to children of party members and "approved cadre."

There has been some mention in the Czech press about the school being a KGB "incubator." But this was denied by one 1980s alumnus who knew Mr Sefcovic as a student. "It was a school for the elite, sure, and students came from the Communist camp, but it was no 'spy school.' It was for future diplomats, journalists, economists, lawyers, not spies," the contact told this website.

Mr Fuele and Mr Sefcovic joined the Communist party because they wanted to become diplomats, not for ideological reasons, Czech and Slovak commentators said.

The Greek nominee, Maria Damanaki, was a member of the Communist Youth while a student in the 1970s and took part in the Athens Polytechnic uprising against the military junta. She was arrested and tortured by the regime.

From 1977 to 1993 she was an MP first for the Communist Party and then with Synaspismos, a non-Stalinist far-left party. She later resigned and joined the mainstream Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Pasok), where she sits on its left wing and works on education and culture.

Changing spots

Estonia's nominee and the current administration and anti-fraud commissioner, Siim Kallas, was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1972 to 1990. He went on to become a free-market liberal and the country's prime minister in 2002, later installing Kremlin-wary officials in key places in his Brussels team.

The parliament will hold hearings with the 26 commissioners starting 11 January. The entire college, along with President Barroso, will then be subject to a vote in plenary, probably towards the end of the month.

"There is a lot of posturing going on. We should make up our minds on the basis of people's individual performance capacity and quality," a spokesman for the EU parliament's centre-left faction, Armin Machmer, said.

Political groups outline criteria for commissioner hearings

Leaders of the four largest political groups in the European Parliament on Tuesday called for transparency and complete information about the commissioner candidates in view of the January hearings, with the Bulgarian nominee emerging as the most controversial.

Sluggish procedure against Hungary back on table

EU probes into Hungary and Poland on rule of law and democracy are back on the agenda of EU affairs ministers - but with little guidance from the Romanian presidency, without a clear idea where the procedures are headed.

Calls for Tajani's resignation over Slovenia, Croatia row

The European Parliament's Italian president referred to Croatia and Slovenia as former Italian regions at the weekend, sparking outrage. Although Antonio Tajani apologised, somer former leaders and MEPs are now calling for his resignation.

MEPs call on EU countries to deal with Hungary

MEPs who launched a procedure examining the democratic situation in Hungary last year now want member states to step up efforts. The government in Budapest meanwhile accuses MEPs of attacking Hungary over migration.

Analysis

France and Germany hope to revive EU with Aachen treaty

In the face of attacks on the liberal world order and the EU, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron renew German-Franco cooperation - but their lack of political capital prevents bold visions or ambitious goals.

Opinion

Italy will keep blinking in 2019

Italy's 'marriage of convenience' coalition government likes picking battles with Brussels. But with the economy now in recession, and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini needing to keep the business lobby on board, expect Rome to blink first.

Opinion

The test for Sweden's new government

While the formation of a new government ends Sweden's fourth-month paralysis, it doesn't resolve the challenge from radical-right populists in Sweden. A key question remains: will treating populists like pariahs undercut the appeal of their, often anti-rights, politics?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  2. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  3. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  4. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  5. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change
  7. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament takes incoherent steps on climate in future EU investments
  8. International Partnership For Human RightsKyrgyz authorities have to immediately release human rights defender Azimjon Askarov
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersSeminar on disability and user involvement
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersInternational appetite for Nordic food policies
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Nordic Innovation House in Hong Kong
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region has chance to become world leader when it comes to start-ups

Latest News

  1. EU says Hungary's anti-Juncker campaign is fake news
  2. Trump right for once: Europe should take back foreign fighters
  3. EU should clarify rules for plant burgers and lab meat
  4. Italian populists could be second biggest force in EU parliament
  5. Merkel defends Russia ties, ridicules Trump on cars
  6. British MPs condemn Facebook CEO's misrule
  7. EU's chance to step up on Hungary and Poland
  8. ESA pushback against new EU space agency plan

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersTheresa May: “We will not be turning our backs on the Nordic region”
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsOpen letter to Emmanuel Macron ahead of Uzbek president's visit
  3. International Partnership for Human RightsRaising key human rights concerns during visit of Turkmenistan's foreign minister
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersState of the Nordic Region presented in Brussels
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs
  9. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  10. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  11. International Partnership for Human RightsCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  12. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us