Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

Adequate and inadequate reactions

euinside, January 15, 2010

The hearing of Rumyana Zheleva caused a lot of reactions, some of which adequate. Regretfully, the reactions of the ruling party in Bulgaria appeared to be in fact inadequate. The group of the socialists and democrats in the European Parliament said in a statement that the Bulgarian candidate for a European Commissioner for International cooperation, humanitarian assistance and crisis reactions faced a tough challenge in the European Parliament on Tuesday. Zheleva was subject to continuous speculations regarding claims of conflict of interest and about the business of her husband, the press-release of the group says.

The vice president of the group Hannes Swoboda, responsible for the hearings in Parliament added: "She did not convince us of her knowledge of the portfolio. Her answers were not relevant. The criteria in evaluating candidates are competency, specific knowledge of their future portfolio and clean financial past. Even she denied any suggestion of impropriety. Zheleva was not convincing".

The coordinator of the group in the Development Committee in Parliament Thijs Berman was more general in his criticism: "We are faced with a huge organizational mess. Development policy is being dismembered under the torture of the division of portfolios between too many European commissioners. Instead of creating a strong and unified role of the EU in poverty reduction, Mr.Barroso persists in perpetuating our divisions", the MEP added.

The group of the Greens and the European Free Alliance, whose deputies were ruthless in their criticism during the hearing, continued afterwords. Judith Sargentini, a Dutch MEP commented: "The integrity of Ms Zheleva's financial declarations as an MEP and Commissioner-delegate is fundamental to the European Parliament's judgement of her suitability for a role as Commissioner. It is right and proper to await final conclusions on the transparency and accuracy of her financial declarations. It is clear, however, that MEPs expect substantial answers regarding her business interests and her declarations of them".

The German Green MEP Ska Keller added: "After her hearing, Rumyana Zheleva's ability to do the job of humanitarian aid Commissioner remains as unclear as her business interests. Her many words revealed very little of real substance. We still have no idea what plans she has to move EU humanitarian aid policy forward. When asked on improving the humanitarian situation in Gaza, the best she could say was that she plans to go there. This was typical of several weak, stock answers that did nothing to prove that she has what it takes to do this important job".

Earlier in on Wednesday the Bulgarian prime minister Boyko Borisov saw conspiracy, organised by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the liberal party NDSV to discredit Rumyana Zheleva. The same position held Volen Siderov from the nationalist party ATAKA and the president of the National Assembly Tsetska Tsacheva even said that the replies of Rumyana Zheleva were extremely professional.

In the meantime, the government refused to show up for the regular press conferences after their session on Wednesday without giving any explanation. In spite of her bad performance, the foreign minister Rumyana Zheleva stopped by with the journalists but refused to comment on her performance as well as to answer the question whether she would withdraw her nomination for a Commissioner.

Still, the prime minister must answer many questions, raised because of the hearing of his foreign minister:

- Is the prime minister aware of the business of Ms Zheleva and with her declaration against conflict of interest, presented in Brussels? If yes, does he see any breach of legislation?

- What measures would he undertake if there is a violation of rules by Ms. Zheleva?

- Has Mr. Borisov watched her hearing on Tuesday evening and, if yes, how does he estimate it, aside from the issues of her declaration?

- Will he continue to believe that Rumyana Zheleva is a well prepared person not only to represent Bulgaria in the European institutions but to be a foreign minister and how does he estimate her work as a first diplomat for the first 6 months?

The response of this and many other questions is extremely important because it will show that in the next 3 years and a half of the current government Bulgaria will be humiliated again and again on different occasions. It is important for the prime minister is for him to know that Tuesday's performance might be forgotten and varnished in Bulgaria but in Europe this will be remembered and reminded every time a good occasion appears.

The fact that in the social network Facebook a special group has been created "Ms. Zheleva, we insist that you apologise!" should not be ignored.The group is growing with every single day because many people watched the debates in the European Parliament and felt disappointed, insulted and ashamed.

It will not be very bad if the ruling party would think of something very important that appeared also during the hearing - each word of Ms. Zheleva in attempt to defend herself made her sink even deeper. For example her claims that in Bulgaria there were institutions that work like the European ones to prove conflict of interest is, to put it mildly, a doubtful argument especially when we have in mind the numerous times the Bulgarian parliament changed the Conflict of Interest Legislation that caused a lot of criticism from Brussels. And if the premier still has the guts to explain everything with the previous government, he should bare in mind that now everything is in his hands to prove that this can and will be changed.

But this is not the way this to happen - by defending a not prepared person! Because this embarrassed not only him and his government but the whole country. And such a behaviour either means stubbornness that he will support his own choice until the very end or a lack of capability to make a good estimation of his people and the risks they might prove to be for his image and the image of the whole government.

And, after all, the time has come for us to stop thinking post factum but to start planning and preparing our work well beforehand. We can only benefit from this and benefit well. There can be found quite a lot of good examples to follow in previous Bulgarian governments. It cannot be a problem for Ms. Zheleva to find the hearing of her colleague Meglena Kuneva who was the first to have the new field of Consumer protection.