New EC Team Set Back After Candidate Pulls out

The process of appointing a new executive team to head the European Commission was set back Tuesday when one candidate for commissioner pulled out.

The delay will spark frustration among technology and telecom industry players who are eager that the Commission push ahead with its new mandate. However, they may also be relieved by events in Brussels Tuesday, because they appear to secure the position of Neelie Kroes in the new Commission.

Rumiana Jeleva, the Bulgarian candidate picked to lead the Commission's humanitarian aid office, withdrew Tuesday after European parliamentarians questioned some of her personal financial arrangements and cast doubt over her suitability for the new job.

Bulgaria has already proposed a replacement candidate -- Kristalina Georgieva, vice president of the World Bank. It is not certain whether she will fill Jeleva's role or if Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will shake up his team and place Georgieva in a different job.

What is certain is that the new Commission won't be confirmed next week as was planned. Instead, Georgieva will have to be vetted by the Parliament.

Parliament President Jerzy Buzek said Tuesday that he hoped Georgieva's hearing could take place on Feb. 3 and a final vote on the team of commissioners could be taken on Feb. 9. This would mean the new Commission will begin work in early March.

While Jeleva attracted the most criticism from parliamentarians, Kroes also disappointed many MEPs during her hearing, drawing complaints that she had a poor grasp of the issues.

After leading the antitrust division for four years Kroes is supposed to take over a newly named Digital Agenda portfolio, largely modeled on the Information Society directorate that preceded it, headed by Viviane Reding.

With Jeleva bowing out voluntarily, observers familiar with the process of appointing a new Commission said Kroes may be in a stronger position to remain in the new team.

"The Parliament has got its pound of flesh with Jeleva's resignation. I doubt they will push for any further changes to Barroso's team," said Jacki Davis, a commentator on E.U. political affairs.

Also, Kroes gave a more polished performance Tuesday when she attended Parliament industry and culture committee meetings, Davis said.

"It would appear that Kroes is in a slightly stronger position today than she was before today, but you can never tell. It is possible that Jeleva's political [conservative] party may try to exact revenge by calling for a socialist and a liberal to be removed from Barroso's team," Davis said, but she added that this seems unlikely.

Parliamentarians vet all commissioners designate but they cannot reject any single candidate -- if they are unhappy they can threaten to reject the whole team.

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