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Juncker warns of delay over rejected Commissioner

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Juncker warns of delay over rejected Commissioner

Alenka Bratusek - Photo © European Union 2014 - EP

(BRUSSELS) - The EU's incoming leader Jean-Claude Juncker set up a high-stakes fight with the European Parliament Thursday, warning that the start of his team's five-year mandate may be delayed if Euro-MPs reject one of his Commissioners.

Juncker suffered a major blow to his European Commission line-up when lawmakers on Wednesday night voted against former Slovenian prime minister Alenka Bratusek after she failed to convince in her confirmation hearing.

But a spokesman said Juncker was sticking with Bratusek, whom Juncker nominated as vice president for energy union and warned that the commission's November 1 start date was at risk if parliament did not approve his line-up in full.

Any delay could have implications for key areas covered by the Commission, the EU's executive arm, including a major bid to boost jobs and growth, the world's biggest trade deal with the US, and sanctions against Russia.

"Mrs Alenka Bratusek is still the commissioner designate for Slovenia. This is what I have to say," Juncker's spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters.

Schinas said parliament had no power to approve or reject the individual commissioners nominated by member states, and that the vote on Bratusek by a parliamentary committee was not binding.

"The European Parliament according to the treaties approves or rejects the commission as a whole," Schinas said.

The European Parliament is due to hold a simple yes-no vote to approve Juncker's line-up as a whole on October 22.

Asked if the European Commission would still start work in November as planned, Margaritis added: "There is risk that this is not the case. We will be able to assess the risk in the days to come."

- Delay could be until January -

Parliament has previously blackballed commissioners in both 2004 -- when Italy's nominee Rocco Buttiglione was sent home for comments about homosexuals -- and in 2009.

It has become increasingly assertive, and this year won the right to approve the head of the European Commission, which was previously the preserve of the leaders of the EU's 28 member states.

Bratusek paid the price for a poor confirmation hearing on Monday, and, as a liberal, she also fell afoul of a political stitch-up between the larger conservative and social democrat groups in parliament seeking to protect their own candidates.

A European source earlier told AFP that the commission "cannot take office on November 1" and that the delay may be as long as "December 1 or even January."

But the source suggested there was still a chance that Bratusek could be replaced, adding that the delay would be to find a new Slovenian candidate and hold fresh confirmation hearings.

Several other controversial commissioners finally won approval on Wednesday night.

France's Pierre Moscovici was narrowly voted through for the key economic affairs job despite doubts about whether he would enforce the bloc's budget rules, having overseen overspending by Paris when he was finance minister.

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.

And 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.

European Parliament committees have held hearings over the past week for each of commissioners nominated by the member states earlier this year.

The European Commission is arguably the most powerful institution in Brussels as it drafts laws -- a task normally reserved for parliaments, not the executive -- and policy for the union of 500 million people, which together represents the world's largest economy.

European Parliament hearings of the Commissioners-designate

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