Rumiana Jeleva looked vulnerable even before her hearing before the European Parliament’s development committee on 12 January. The Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and Liberal groups had expressed concern about her lack of experience – she had been Bulgaria’s foreign minister only since July 2009 – and about allegations about her husband’s business dealings.
Nevertheless, she was clearly unprepared for aggressive questioning from MEPs. She failed to answer direct questions about her ownership of Global Consult, which appears in her curriculum vitae but is not in the decleration of financial interests made when she was an MEP in 2007-09. On top of that, she showed poor geographical knowledge for a foreign minister, and gave only bland answers to MEPs’ questions. The S&D group said it was “unacceptable” that she should become a commissioner.
MEPs from the European People’s Party (EPP), of which Jeleva had been elected a vice-president last year, said the next day that she had been subject to a “witch hunt” by her political opponents. She had strong support from Joseph Daul, the EPP group leader who had become a friend when she was an MEP, and members of the Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), which had helped Boyko Borisov, Bulgaria’s prime minister, to set up his Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria (Gerb) party that won the elections in July 2009.
But the EPP was isolated. By Thursday (14 January), the S&D, the Liberals, the Greens, the far-left and the European Conservatives and Reformists were adamant that they would block Jeleva from becoming a commissioner.
In what looked like an EPP move to rebut some of the allegations against Jeleva, Jerzy Buzek, the president of the European Parliament, wrote, at the request of the development committee, to European Commission President José Manuel Barroso asking whether Jeleva’s declaration of financial interests was in line with the code of conduct for commissioners and whether she was a suitable candidate to be a commissioner.
In a carefully worded letter sent on Friday, Barroso said that Jeleva’s declaration was in line with the code of conduct, but pointed out that the Commission had no formal powers of investigation into specific declarations. He said that Jeleva was a suitable candidate because she held the office of foreign minister in Bulgaria and had been elected as an MEP.
It was an endorsement, though not wholehearted. But inside the EPP, Jeleva was losing support.
When the political group co-ordinators of the Parliament’s development committee met late on Monday evening (18 January) to discuss Jeleva’s future, it soon became clear that if she remained in Barroso’s line-up, most political groups would vote against approving his new team. The development committee was scheduled to meet again on Tuesday for a formal decision if her name was not withdrawn.
Kristalina Georgieva, whom Bulgaria has nominated as its replacement for Rumiana Jeleva, is currently a vice-president of the World Bank with responsibility for the strategy and operation of its Sustainable Development Network.
Georgieva, who is 56, joined the World Bank in 1993 after an international career as an academic and consultant on development issues. At the bank, she has worked primarily on environmental matters and issues of sustainable development in central and eastern Europe, eastern Asia and the Pacific. She was director for the environment in 2000-04, responsible for strategy and the management of a loan portfolio totalling more than $11 billion (€7.7bn). She was the bank’s Russia director in 2004-07.
Barroso thought it better to suffer further delay by replacing Jeleva, rather than have her and his Commission under constant fire for the next five years. Following contacts on Monday evening between Barroso and Borisov, the Bulgarian prime minister was persuaded to drop Jeleva.