Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Bulc Question: a good pick for the Commission?

When the Slovenian candidate to become the Commissioner for Energy Union and a Vice President of the Commission, Alenka Bratusek, was overwhelmingly rejected by the European Parliament's industry and environment committees, the Socialists and Democrats were quick to signal their support for the Socialist MEP Tanja Fajon as her replacement. The EPP also backed Fajon as she was the second choice of the Slovenian government over the summer.

The problem with this was that there has been a change of government in the meantime, with a completely new political party sweeping into office. The new Prime Minister, Miro Cerar, condemned the cross-party backing for the Socialist MEP as meddling with the decision of a national government, and selected a political newcomer Violeta Bulc as Bratusek's replacement.

Bulc has only briefly been a minister in Cerar's newly-formed government, and a minister for Development, Strategic Projects and Cohesion. She has experience as a businesswoman (EUObserver reports that she has also trained as a shaman and firewalker - she went to the Shamanic Academy in Scotland in 2008 [PDF]), but no really relevant policy experience for the portfolio of Energy Union. In fact, it's hard to get a grip on what her business experience is actually in, although the word "innovation" is mentioned a lot. Since Bratusek was rejected due to her terrible performance when grilled by MEPs, it seems odd to pick someone with less political experience, but then Cerar's party was only formed just before the Slovenian elections earlier this year in June, and Cerar himself is new to the political game.

And now it also looks like the opposition is pressing for an anti-corruption investigation into Bulc's nomination as her nomination was only passed by the Slovenian government due to a procedural rule which permits absent ministers' vote to be counted in favour of a motion. Bratusek herself was brought down as Prime Minister by the anti-corruption commission, and nominated herself as commission candidate before she was kicked out of office.

In the Parliament the Socialists have backed off slightly, stating that it will be Bulc's performance in Parliament that will matter and that they will only reject her if her performance is worse than Bratusek's. But with opinions of Bulc already low and her nomination subject to domestic political battles, the focus should still be on whether or not she's up to the job.

It is unlikely that Bulc will get the Energy Union post and there will probably be a small reshuffle of the posts to take into account how the candidates have been received by Parliament. Currently the Education, Culture, Youth and Citizenship portfolio, which was controversially given to Hungarian candidate Tibor Navracsis, is the favourite as it will allow Juncker to shuffle Navracsis away to a less contentious post. Fajon, too, had little experience when it came to energy union, but as an MEP since 2009 who has been a member of the Parliament's Civi Liberities, Justice and Home Affairs Committee, she has more policy experience for the tipped new portfolio than Bulc.

Cerar is right that the nomination is Slovenia's choice and not the Parliament's, even if Parliament can reject her as part of the proposed Commission, but has he made the less credible pick? It certainly looks like that way at the moment, but the parliamentary hearing will be the big test for Bulc.

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