October 14, 2014 / 10:29 PM / in 4 years

Juncker tweaks EU team, to reshuffle transport and energy posts

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s incoming chief executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, has proposed a minor reshuffle of his team following the EU parliament’s rejection of the Slovenian nominee to the European Commission.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the incoming president of the European Commission (EC), presents the list of the European Commissioners and their jobs for the next five years, during a news conference at the EC headquarters in Brussels September 10, 2014. REUTERS/Yves Herman

In a statement on Tuesday after meeting Slovenia’s substitute candidate, Violeta Bulc, Juncker said he had proposed to the Council of EU government leaders a new list of commissioners. In it, Bulc replaced former Slovenian premier Alenka Bratusek, whom lawmakers had refused to accept.

A source close to Juncker said that if the Council accepted Bulc - a process that could be completed via envoys in Brussels as early as Wednesday - then he would propose Bulc take the transport portfolio on his team. The Slovak nominee, Maros Sefcovic, previously designated for that brief, would take the vice presidency for energy union originally offered to Bratusek.

Bulc, a 50-year-old telecoms entrepreneur who joined the new government in Ljubljana only last month, would face a confirmation hearing with a committee of the European Parliament on Monday. That would be followed by Sefcovic for his new role on Tuesday, ahead of a vote scheduled for Oct. 22, at which the legislature must approve or reject Juncker’s team en bloc.

The new EU executive body, comprised of one representative from each of the 28 member states, is due to take office for five years on Nov. 1, replacing that led by the outgoing president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso.

After several days of party political confrontation, when the main center-right and center-left blocs in parliament threatened to reject each other’s candidates for Juncker’s team, all but Bratusek were accepted as commissioners by lawmakers last week. That set Juncker, the conservative former premier of Luxembourg, on track to take office on time.

Bulc studied in San Francisco and worked in Silicon Valley before returning to Slovenia to work in the state telecoms company and then found her own firm, Telemach. She was recruited into politics as a deputy premier last month by Prime Minister Miro Cerar, who unseated Bratusek in an election in July.

Bulc’s colourful list of interests has attracted attention in Brussels, ranging from her youthful prowess in basketball and a black belt in tae kwon do to her training as a shaman and promotion of fire-walking in her consultancy business.

Her record as an entrepreneur, however, may counter skeptics, although as a liberal centrist, not backed by either of the two main parliamentary blocs, she faces a tough hearing.

Any further rejection by parliament would probably delay the transfer of powers from Barroso to Juncker.

The center-left had urged Cerar to propose a candidate from their political group to replace Bratusek, another centrist. But the group may be mollified by Juncker’s plan to promote Sefcovic, a Slovak who is outgoing EU commissioner for relations among the union’s institutions, to the energy vice presidency.

One element undecided in the new line-up, according to the source close to Juncker, was whether the responsibility that Sefcovic was to have had for space travel would be handed to Bulc. It could be assigned to another commissioner.

Editing by Leslie Adler

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