LJUBLJANA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The Slovenian government named on Friday an entrepreneur and newly appointed minister, Violeta Bulc, as its candidate for a post in the new European Commission after its original nominee was rejected by the European Parliament.
The announcement gives Jean-Claude Juncker, President-elect of the incoming Commission, a chance to complete his team before a confirmation vote in the legislature scheduled for Oct. 22.
However, a spokesman for Juncker said the timetable would still be “very tight” for the new EU executive to be fully in place for Nov. 1, when it is due to take over from the Commission led by Jose Manuel Barroso.
Slovenia’s new prime minister, Miro Cerar, only brought Bulc, founder of a telecoms firm, into government last month as a deputy premier. Juncker will interview her early next week to decide which portfolio she might take.
Bulc, 50, will have little time to prepare for a parliamentary committee hearing for her new job and may well face resistance from some of the major parties.
Cerar’s predecessor, Alenka Bratusek, who nominated herself to Slovenia’s seat on the Commission after losing an election in July, had been assigned to be vice president for energy union, but it was unclear whether Bulc would land such a senior role, given her relative lack of experience in government.
If not, then Juncker may have to reshuffle his line-up.
All 26 other nominees - each member state puts one forward - were approved by parliamentary committees in hearings over the past two weeks. But Bratusek, who failed to convince lawmakers of her competence, was humiliated by an overwhelming vote on Wednesday against her. She withdrew her candidacy on Thursday.
Party politics in the European Parliament could jeopardize Bulc’s appointment. It contributed to Bratusek’s problems, as she belonged to the centrist ALDE group in a legislature in which Juncker’s centre-right EPP and the centre-left S&D have cooperated to dominate the appointments to the Commission.
The EPP and S&D had urged Cerar to nominate a different woman, an S&D member of the European Parliament Tanja Fajon. Some of Cerar’s coalition partners in Ljubljana also supported Fajon’s nomination - women candidates were favoured since Juncker has been keen to appoint as many women as possible.
Cerar, who founded his own party to win the July election, expressed anger at the overt pressure from other parties in favor of Fajon.
A spokesman for ALDE said he expected Bulc and Cerar to align themselves with the centrists in the EU parliament. He said Bulc was likely to have her confirmation hearing in parliamentary committee on Monday, Oct. 20, two days before the plenary vote is scheduled on the Commission as a whole.
Carrying the centrist ALDE label could complicate Bulc’s efforts to win approval in committee, though the group will argue that it ensures the balance of parties in the parliament is unchanged by the rejection of Bratusek.
Bulc’s lack of a political background could also count against her with legislators keen to hold nominees to account for their competence. But a portfolio that suited her strengths in the business world could make her passage easier.
Parliament must vote to accept the Commission as a whole, so any delay in finalising the line-up can hold up its taking office, as has happened in the past. In that case, the outgoing executive of Barroso would continue in a caretaker capacity.
Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis in Brussels; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Gareth Jones