October 6, 2014 / 4:23 PM / in 3 years

EU lawmakers reject Hungarian culture nominee, disrupting Juncker plan

Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship European Commissioner-designate Tibor Navracsics of Hungary addresses the European Parliament's Committee on Culture and Education, at the EU Parliament in Brussels October 1, 2014. REUTERS/Yves Herman

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A European Parliament committee voted on Monday to reject the nomination of Hungarian Tibor Navracsics as education and culture commissioner, though it accepted that he could be a part of the EU executive in another role, lawmakers said.

“First defeat for Juncker!” tweeted Spanish Green Ernest Maragall, saying the vote in the culture and education committee went 14-12 against the Hungarian taking the post he was offered.

The move may disrupt the line-up of the executive team proposed by incoming European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

As a former justice minister in the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, Navracsics was severely criticized during a hearing last week for policies on education, media, judiciary and minority rights over which Budapest has clashed with the EU. Navracsics had tried to distance himself from those policies.

Parliamentary sources said the center-right EPP group, to which both Juncker and Navracsics belong, would now propose depriving the Hungarian of only a small part of his original portfolio, that for citizenship issues, so that Juncker could avoid a major reshuffle of the 27-strong team he put forward.

That would leave Navracsics in charge of education, culture and youth affairs, something the left may not accept.

A leading center-left member of the committee, German Social Democrat Petra Kammerevert, said in a statement: “Education, culture, youth or citizenship are all out of the question for Tibor Navracsics.” She also noted, however, that the Hungarian government had a right to have a nominee on the Commission.

With several other nominees facing resistance in committee, Navracsics’ fate is likely to be bound up with a broader package deal between Juncker and the main parliamentary groups.

On Tuesday, before the final confirmation hearings later in the day, lawmakers expect Juncker to meet parliamentary speaker Martin Schulz, from the center-left S&D group, along with the floor leaders of the EPP and S&D.

Parliament cannot, formally, reject commissioners individually. It is due to hold a single confirmation vote on the Commission as a whole on Oct. 22 so that it can take over on Nov. 1 from the outgoing executive of Jose Manuel Barroso.

To avoid parliament holding up his entire team, Juncker may modify his line-up in advance to overcome lawmakers’ objections.

Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski and Barbara Lewis; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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