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EU Parliament rejects Commissioner in blow to Juncker

08 October 2014, 22:52 CET
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EU Parliament rejects Commissioner in blow to Juncker

Alenka Bratusek - Photo © European Union 2014 - EP

(BRUSSELS) - The European Parliament overwhelmingly rejected Slovenia's EU Commission nominee in a blow to Jean-Claude Juncker Wednesday, but the incoming president managed to push through divisive candidates from France, Britain and Spain.

Euro-MPs claimed the scalp of former Slovenian prime minister Alenka Bratusek after she failed to convince during a torrid confirmation hearing on Monday for her role as vice president for energy union.

But Juncker's backroom talks aimed at avoiding a damaging battle with an increasingly assertive legislature seemed to have paid off as parliamentary committees approved the higher profile commissioners.

France's former finance minister Pierre Moscovici was narrowly voted through for the key economic affairs job despite a bitter battle between his socialist group and the conservatives in parliament.

Britain's Jonathan Hill was approved for the financial services position after he told MEPs during an unprecedented second hearing that he would help keep the UK in the European Union in a referendum in 2017.

Spain's controversial nominee Miguel Arias Canete also made it through as energy and climate commissioner despite fierce opposition over alleged conflicts of interest and of sexism.

The European Commission is arguably the most powerful institution in Brussels as its 28 commissioners -- one from each member state -- draft laws and policy for the bloc for a five-year mandate.

But the increasingly assertive European Parliament has the final say over its line-up in a yes-or-no vote on the entire team on October 22.

Former Luxembourg premier Juncker is effectively bound to drop any candidates that are rejected by the parliamentary committee votes that have followed each of the confirmation hearings over the past week.

Euro-MPs forced changes of Commissioners in both 2004 and 2009.

- Replacement Commissioner -

Juncker must now try to find a replacement for Bratusek from Slovenia after parliament's environment and energy committees opposed her by 112 votes to 13.

Bratusek had faced criticism for effectively nominating herself as Slovenia's commissioner while she was on the way out as premier -- a position in which she helped the country avoid a bailout -- and for allegedly being caught singing a communist song.

Slovenia's current prime minister, Miro Cerar, said he was disappointed with the decision but promised to put forward a new candidate within three days.

Reports named government minister Violeta Bulc as a likely candidate.

Britain's Hill -- who was voted through by 42 votes to 16 by parliament's economic committee -- won over MEPs who were initially sceptical about his qualifications and the possibility that he could be biased towards Britain's huge financial services industry.

Moscovici won by a less convincing margin of 32 votes to 15 having faced questions about whether he was suited to oversee EU budgets when France had overrun deficit targest set by Brussels under his watch as finance minister.

A petition against Canete's appointment was signed by 600,000 people, after he was forced to sell his shares in an oil company, and for sexist comments that he made towards a female political rival, but he was also approved.

The Frenchman and the Spaniard both appeared to benefit from Juncker's efforts to head off a damaging war between the socialist and conservative groups in parliament, which could have seen both candidates rejected.

Jyrki Katainen of Finland, the vice-president for jobs and growth, was overwhelmingly voted through, and Valdis Dombrovskis, the Latvian ex-PM named commission vice-president with responsibility for the euro currency, was also cleared.

Juncker is now due to hold further talks with senior parlimentary figures, probably on Monday, to thrash out the final shape of the commission.

The fight over the commision threatens to distract from the EU's attempts to appear less bureaucratic and political, given the rise of eurosceptic parties at a time of economic stagnation and high unemployment.

European Parliament hearings of the Commissioners-designate

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