BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The formation of a new EU executive hit a fresh snag on Monday when a parliamentary committee rejected the Hungarian nominated to run education and culture due to his record in a government accused of curbing civic rights.
The committee voted to accept Tibor Navracsics in another role on the European Commission but asked its incoming president, Jean-Claude Juncker, not to assign him the education, culture, youth and citizenship portfolio Juncker had proposed.
After a handful of the 27 nominees failed to secure immediate legislative approval last week, Navracsics was the first to suffer outright rejection. With confirmation hearings due to wind up on Tuesday, his fate may now depend on a package of compromises Juncker may have to offer to unblock a process that has become snarled in party rivalries in parliament.
“First defeat for Juncker!” tweeted Spanish Green Ernest Maragall, saying the culture and education committee voted 14-12 against the Hungarian taking the post he was offered.
“Both Mr. Navracsics and also Mr. Juncker must understand that there can be no question of giving a portfolio focused on values to someone who has belonged to a Hungarian government that has been indifferent, if not opposed, to fundamental European values,” said German Social Democrat Petra Kammerevert.
Navracsics presented himself at a hearing last week as the man who negotiated with the EU to amend laws enacted while he was justice minister under premier Viktor Orban. EU neighbors accused Orban of curbing minority rights and media, judicial and educational freedoms. In follow-up written testimony, Navracsics sought to distance himself from Orban, voicing “regret”.
Navracsics’s center-right allies were pushing for him to retain the bulk of his portfolio, shorn of responsibility for “citizenship” - broadly civil rights. But opponents called for him to be moved to an entirely different brief. That could push Juncker into an awkward reshuffle if his team is to win confirmation en bloc. It is scheduled to take office on Nov. 1.
Smaller parties in a European Parliament to which voters returned dozens of new, Eurosceptic members at an election in May, have criticized what they see as a “grand coalition” between Juncker’s center-left EPP and the mainstream center-left S&D group driving through a Commission line-up that suits them.
A breakdown in that left-right consensus during the first week of hearings last week, however, has left several key posts still uncertain. Britain’s Jonathan Hill faces an unusual repeat hearing at 1 p.m. (7.00 a.m. EDT/1100 GMT) on Tuesday to overcome reservations on his suitability to oversee the bloc’s financial sector.
He sought last week to defend his ability as a conservative lobbyist from a non-euro zone state that has a major financial services industry to manage moves to banking and capital markets union impartially. But though he charmed many lawmakers with his wit, he left many doubting his grasp of key issues for the euro.
Britain’s Conservatives quit the EPP five years ago, leaving Hill without the protection of one of the main parliamentary groups. However, concern not to alienate Britain after Prime Minister David Cameron offered voters a referendum on leaving the EU may limit any push to deprive Hill of an important post.
French Socialist Pierre Moscovici must deliver a second set of written answers to written questions by lunchtime after coming under fire from the right and Germany over his ability to impose euro zone budget discipline on a deficit-running Paris government in which he was finance minister until this year.
Greens and the left objected to Spanish conservative Miguel Arias Canete taking a combined energy and climate change brief, citing his family interests in the oil industry. However, a clean bill of health on Monday in a legal review of his declaration of interests may help him now secure a majority.
Also in trouble are two nominees from the centrist bloc in parliament, Czech Vera Jourova at justice and, after a lacklustre hearing on Monday, the former Slovenian premier Alenka Bratusek, Juncker’s proposed vice president for energy.
Aside from Hill’s “resit”, the final hearings on Tuesday will involve Jyrki Katainen, the Finnish conservative Juncker has proposed as vice president for economic issues to oversee Moscovici among others, and former Dutch foreign minister Frans Timmermans, nominated as Juncker’s second-in-command.
Late on Monday Federica Mogherini, the Italian nominated by EU leaders to run foreign affairs, told her confirmation hearing that Ukraine’s government required EU backing and that relations with Russia should be “deeply reassessed” over the five years of the new Commission’s mandate.
Party political bargaining on the executive team, complicated by the interests of the 28 EU member states which each are entitled to a commissioner, may take some time to resolve. Juncker can switch nominees to different jobs -- though that may require further hearing by parliamentary committees.
He can also ask countries to put forward a new candidate if one meets stiffer resistance. Bratusek may be vulnerable as she put her own name forward while interim prime minister after losing an election. Her successor in Ljubljana has complained.
On Tuesday morning, 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. However, further negotiations later in the week are likely before it is clear whether, and how, consensus is emerging on the Commission.
Additional reporting by Jan Strupczewski, Barbara Lewis, Robin Emmott and Julia Fioretti; Editing by Dominic Evans