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New EU chief forced to rejig incoming team after two rejected


AFP Brussels
Incoming European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen is being forced to revise her executive line-up after candidates from Hungary and Romania failed to pass MEPs' muster Monday because of conflicts of interest.
A spokesman said it was now up to Budapest and Bucharest to put forward new candidates who are "verified -- both in terms of integrity and professional qualifications".
Hungary immediately responded by offering up an experienced diplomat, Oliver Varhelyi, to be its commissioner, giving up on rejected former justice minister Laszlo Trocsanyi who had been named to take on the EU enlargement portfolio.
A senior EU official said that, at first glance, Varhelyi "looks fine".
A question mark remained over Bucharest's choice to replace Rovana Plumb, a former labour minister who was meant to be EU transport commissioner.
Both Trocsanyi and Plumb were deemed unfit by the European Parliament's legal affairs committee, wielding new power it has to pre-vet some of the 26 commissioner candidates drawn from the EU member states.
The developments came as the European Parliament began confirmation hearings of the commissioners who from November are to take up their jobs running the world's second-biggest economic bloc.
Trocsanyi, tripped up by government contracts to the law firm he started and for what were deemed troubling ties with Russia, slammed the "blatant injustice" he faced.
Hungary's nationalist leader, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, had claimed the committee's move was motivated by Trocsanyi helping "to stop migration".
His new choice, Varhelyi, appeared less contentious, having previously worked in the Commission as a bureaucrat, and recently in Hungary's diplomatic mission to the EU.
Plumb, stymied over suspicious loans to her, criticised her disqualification as "eminently political".
Even though von der Leyen had no say over the names put forward by member states, she did interview the candidates for suitability before announcing her Commission.
The rejections therefore weakened her hand as the European Parliament quizzed the remaining commissioner candidates in hearings running from Monday to October 8.
The legal affairs committee pre-empted the wider parliament's hearings by using a new power to scrutinise candidates.
Most of the rest of the team chosen by von der Leyen -- who is already confirmed -- are expected to get through the grilling, forming a near gender-balanced executive to hold office for the next five years.
However, some of the other designated commissioners also have clouds hanging over them.
They were likely to have uncomfortable questions thrown at them in the public hearings.
The EU's anti-fraud office OLAF declined to recommend charges against Poland's candidate commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, after he reimbursed 11,250 euros (USD 12,300) for travel expenses improperly claimed while he was an MEP.
A similar OLAF probe into France's Sylvie Goulard remains open, but she too has already paid back 45,000 euros.
Belgium's Didier Reynders had a corruption probe against him set aside on Friday, while Spain's Josep Borrell -- named to become the EU's foreign policy chief -- was fined 30,000 euros last year for insider trading.
The European Parliamentary hearings were also expected to touch on a controversy over von der Leyen's decision to give the title of "Protecting our European Way of Life" to the commissioner in charge of migration.
Three commissioners-designate were to appear for hearings on Monday: Slovakia's Maros Sefkovic, to handle interinstitutional relations; Ireland's Phil Hogan, for trade; and Bulgaria's Mariya Gabriel, for innovation and youth.
The hearings end with von der Leyen's three executive vice presidents being quizzed.
Britain is the one EU member state without a future commissioner in the mix as its government is intent on it leaving the bloc on October 31, the day before the new European Commission takes office.

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First Published: Sep 30 2019 | 10:30 PM IST

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