European Union lawmakers flexed their political muscle yesterday, rejecting for a second time Hungary and Romania's nominees for two of the bloc's top posts amid concerns over possible conflicts of interest.
European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen will likely have to decide whether to push through the candidates in the face of lawmakers' rejections or pick a fight with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and the socialist Romanian government by asking them to select new candidates.
EU transport commissioner-designate, Romania's Rovana Plumb, and the proposed commissioner for EU enlargement, Hungary's former Justice Minister Laszlo Trocsanyi, were told by lawmakers that their confirmation hearings could not take place because of issues in their financial statements, a parliament spokesman said yesterday. The unprecedented decision taken by lawmakers in the parliament's committee on legal affairs upheld a vote by the same committee last week to block the two candidates.
After the second vote, EU Parliament spokesman Jaume Duch Guillot tweeted that the two "are unable to exercise his or her functions in accordance with the [EU] treaties and the code of conduct." But French lawmaker Manon Aubry, a member of the committee, complained that the parliamentarians "were forced" into a second vote. "In what democracies are deputies forced to vote until the desired result is obtained?" she asked. "This anti-democratic precedent is scandalous," she tweeted. "We held our positions: the two candidates are rejected, but the attack on democracy and the weaknesses of this procedure remain."
The commission, the EU's massive bureaucracy with around 33,000 staff, proposes laws for the 28 EU nations and makes sure they're enforced. It runs everything from trade talks to consumer protection to privacy and anti-trust policies, as well as supervising national budgets and farm subsidies. It's the first time that commission candidates have faced conflict of interest hearings. It will now be up to incoming commission president Ursula von der Leyen, who needs to pass a confidence vote in the parliament before taking office in November, to decide, together with the Hungarian and Romanian governments which put forward the two, what actions to take.
Hungarian Prime Minister Orban has been a harsh critic of the current EU commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, notably concerning its criticism of what Brussels sees as his government's moves to undermine the rule of law in Hungary. Trocsanyi is a member of the Orban's ruling Fidesz party. The current EU parliament was elected in May. Around 60% of the 751 lawmakers in the transnational assembly are new to the job.