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EU's Barroso backs Romania's nominee for commissioner

30 October 2006, 22:35 CET

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso on Monday backed Romania's replacement candidate, Leonard Orban, for the post of EU commissioner after the first nominee withdrew over concerns about his political past.

Orban, who negotiated Romania's forthcoming entry into the EU, was nominated to become European commissioner for multilingualism, a portfolio that is currently held by Jan Figel of Slovakia who retains the education and culture portfolio.

"I am sure that Mr Orban, on the basis of his personal, political and professional experience, qualities and commitment will successfully carry out the responsibilities which I wish to assign to him," Barroso, who was in Lisbon, said in a statement released in Brussels.

Romania and Bulgaria are to join the European Union on January 1, and each member state is entitled to one commissioner's post at the EU's executive arm.

The Commission on Thursday nominated Bulgaria's European Integration Minister Meglena Kuneva, who was also her country's chief negotiator on joining the EU, to become commissioner for consumer protection.

It was then that it became clear there was a problem with Romania's candidate, who also met with Barroso but returned home with no such endorsement.

The original Romanian choice, Varujan Vosganian, withdrew his candidature over the weekend after failing to win endorsement from the EU executive amid questions about his far-right views and lack of EU experience.

"Although the accusations against me are baseless, the examination of my candidacy may be prolonged, and that could damage Romania's image," Vosganian told a press conference in Bucharest on Saturday.

In October 2004, Barroso's commission got off to a bumpy start when Italy's candidate for commissioner, Rocco Buttiglione, was forced to withdraw because of opposition from the EU parliament over his views that homosexuality is a sin and that women should stay at home looking after children.

The Socialist group of Euro MPs, the most vocal critic of Vosganian's candidature, described Orban as "a considerable improvement".

Vice-presidents of the 201-strong Socialist Group in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda and Jan Marinus Wiersma, said in a statement: "The new candidate, deputy Europe minister and former chief EU negotiator Orban, has the necessary European experience.

"However, we regret that because of the current divisions within the country, it was not possible for Romania to come forward with a more prominent political personality as its candidate."

Before Kuneva and Orban can take up their posts in January as commissioners, they face hearings at the end of November in the European Parliament, which will give its opinion on their nominations in the following weeks.

A technocrat without any particular political leanings, Orban also has a deep knowledge of the inner workings of the EU institutions and has never been at the centre of a scandal.

Orban, 45, is a trained engineer and economist who speaks English, French and some Italian in addition to his mother tongue Romanian.

When Bulgaria and Romania join the EU in January, the EU will have 23 official languages, with Irish also set to become an official tongue at the same time.

"Languages are at the heart of the European identity, and the commission's role in this area, when it comes to translating the EU's legislation, providing the necessary interpretation to thousands of meetings or encouraging the teaching of languages, is crucial," said Figel, who remains commissioner for education, training and culture.

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