Saturday, 19 September 2009

The quest for the Bulgarian Commissioner

As I have already written, the speculations about the figure of the Bulgarian representative of the 2009-2014 European Commission have been going for quite some time now. The parliamentary elections in Bulgaria (held on July 7th 2009) have reduced the list of possible candidates to just two.

The electoral success of the EPP-affiliated GERB has dramatically increased the chances of Rumyana Zheleva who is currently holding the post of foreign minister. Ms. Zheleva has been in the consultancy sector before becoming an MEP in 2007. She regained her seat in the European Parliament as a top-candidate of the party in 2009. However she held it just briefly after the new Bulgarian government was constituted in late July.

The other candidate is the present Commissioner Meglena Kuneva (in charge of the Consumer protection portfolio). Ms. Kuneva has long been a favorite to retain her post after transforming the area she is responsible for from a minor one to one of the most important during this Commissions mandate. As a result she was elected Commissioner of the year in 2008. Meglena Kuneva has even been tipped for a vice-presidency if she managed to be re-appointed.

If the appointment of an European commissioner was up to the judgment of the national governments only then Ms. Zheleva would have been almost 100% certain for the post. However in reality the viewpoint of the Commission President and Parliament matter just as much. That pretty much levels the two ladies' chances. Meglena Kuneva can count on the benevolense of re-elected Barosso as she has been one of the popular commissioners during his first term. Kuneva has managed to establish quite solid relations in Brussels already during Bulgaria's negotiation process with the EU when she was the country's chief negotiator. The level of "mutual understanding" (although one-sided) was signalled by the nickname "Misis Yes" she received. That all comes to speak about the very strong connections Kuneva has in Brussels.

Compared to her opponent, Rumyana Zheleva is virtually nobody in Brussels. When elected for an MEP in 2007 she was fifth in her party's list and never held an important post in any Parliament commission. Hence she has never been involved in any interaction with the Commission. At present the major asset in her CV is the post of foreign minister which she holds for just 45 days. Such a background will not help in the preliminary hearings even if Barosso does not ask for another candidate. However Zheleva is sure to be the country's first candidate as prime minister Borisov declared that the Bulgarian nomination will be a woman representing his political party GERB.

The structure of support for Barroso's re-election could prove to be crucial in determining the fate of the Bulgarian commissioner. The backing of the ALDE group did not come free of charge. Barroso would have to secure a one-third commissioner quota for the liberals. Where those eight or nine commissioners are going to come from is hard to tell as 23 of the 27 European governments are center-right. As one of the new and uninfluential member-states Bulgaria might well be forced to make a compromise. And that will leave the doors for Kuneva wide open ...

P.S. The impact of the second Irish referendum on the Lisbon treaty should also not be underestimated as Bulgaria might not even have a commissioner if the treaty is ratified.