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Under-fire Commission nominee pulls out

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Under-fire Commission nominee pulls out

Rumiana Jeleva - Photo European Parliament

(STRASBOURG) - Bulgaria's EU commission nominee Rumiana Jeleva withdrew Tuesday amid allegations of incompetence and financial irregularities, disrupting the formation of the EU's new executive team.

Jeleva's decision solved one problem for commission head Jose Manuel Barroso as he puts together a team of 26 policy commissioners for his second five-year term in office. But it scuppered his bid to get a new cabinet up and running on February 1.

In her letter of resignation Jeleva said she could not be sure of "an impartial stance and objective appraisal" from the EU parliament.

She also offered her resignation as Bulgaria's foreign minister, which Prime Minister Boyko Borisov turned down.

While accepting her withdrawal as a nominee for the European Union's executive arm to avoid an "institutional crisis", Borisov said he did not have "any reasons" to relieve her of her ministerial duties.

Jeleva came under fire from members of the European Parliament during a confirmation hearing last week over her competence for the post of EU humanitarian aid commissioner and also over alleged gaps in her declaration of financial interests.

Sofia swiftly proposed World Bank vice-president Kristalina Georgieva as its new nominee for EU commissioner, seeking to avoid diplomatic fallout.

Georgieva told Bulgarian radio that her work with the World Bank helped her understand the aid sector.

Barroso welcomed "the swift reaction of the Bulgarian government to this situation," adding in a statement that the process of putting together his new commission team "should now continue."

However, EU Parliament president Jerzy Buzek confirmed in Strasbourg that the February 1 schedule for a new commission team was now untenable.

If Barroso backs Georgieva -- after talks with her over the next two days -- she will be quizzed on February 3 by the parliament which will deliver its opinion six days later, Buzek told reporters.

Barroso was already delayed in forming his new team in November due to problems in ratifying the EU's reform Lisbon Treaty, leaving the old commissioners doing overtime.

The parliamentary head of the Greens, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, said the "debacle" showed Barroso had lost control of the situation.

The furore recalls the terrible start for the first Barroso team in 2004. when Italian candidate Rocco Buttiglione, accused of sexist and homophobic views, pulled out at the last minute

The row over Jeleva could also open a Pandora's box for the commission as it split the parliamentary groups along political lines.

The Socialist group in the EU assembly, the second biggest bloc, which led the criticism against Jeleva, said her decision to withdraw had been inevitable.

However Jeleva's own political family in the parliament, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), has complained about a "witch hunt" amid allegations her husband had mafia links and that she failed to declare involvement in the Bulgarian firm Global Consult.

"I hope that the political groups, who have been attacking Mrs Jeleva and her family with unfounded and slanderous allegations since her nomination to the commission was announced, will cease this hostile and aggressive behaviour," said EPP chairman Joseph Daul.

The conservative MEPs have spoken of the possibility of a tit-for-tat campaign against a socialist EU commissioner, perhaps Slovakia's Maros Sefcovic accused of anti-Roma statements in 2005.

Over the last week and a half the parliament has questioned all 26 commission nominees.

Jeleva was not the only one to face a tough grilling. The EU's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton also failed to impress.

In Strasbourg Tuesday Ashton faced further criticism over her failure to fly to quake-hit Haiti.

"I'm not a doctor, not a firefighter," she countered.

Summary of hearing of Rumiana Jeleva - International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response - European Parliament

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