Vacant seat in the Commission is closer to being filled as Commissioner-designate Ivanova
Di Zoe Ricci
Following over two hours of comprehensive examination, Iliana Ivanova is one step closer to taking office as European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education, and Youth, the now Deputy Prime Minister of Bulgaria Mariya Gabriel.
Yesterday Bulgaria’s Commissioner-designate appeared in the European Parliament before the joint Committees for Industry, Research and Energy (ITRE) and Culture and Education (CULT) to present her priorities and face a thorough questioning by MEPs aimed at assessing her suitability for the role. Her performance during the hearing received a very positive reception: MEPs Sabine Verheyen (DE, EPP) and Cristian-Silviu Bușoi (RO, EPP) – who chaired the meeting – went as far as to say it was an “excellent hearing of a Commissioner-designate” and praised Ms Ivanova’s communication skills. Her strong grasp of the portfolio and her multilingual proficiency, which included English, French, German, and Russian, were also highly appreciated as they greatly facilitated international collaborations. In the following hours, all the political groups in the ITRE and CULT committees expressed their unanimous approval of the appointment, which will be confirmed by a vote during the plenary session on 12 September.
A former MEP, Ms Ivanova belongs to the EPP-affiliated Bulgarian GERB party of former Prime Minister Boyko Borissov and has been a prominent member of the European Court of Auditors since 2013. Her experience in these roles has equipped her with a deep understanding of EU policies and practices, evident in her skilful navigation of the complexities of the EU and her nuanced responses during the parliamentary hearing.
In her opening remarks, Commissioner-designate Ivanova outlined her priorities, comprising of a resolute commitment to research and innovation to spur economic growth, enhancing opportunities for skills development, and acknowledging the instrumental role of culture and sports in fostering social cohesion. Horizon Europe and budgetary issues were the primary subjects throughout the hearing: Ms Ivanova strongly stressed her commitment to preserving the Horizon Europe funding and bringing it in line with the goals of the initiative. While acknowledging financial pressures, she emphasized that maximizing the potential of existing resources through improved communication and cooperation between programs could yield substantial progress. She also highlighted the importance of global partnerships and substantial measures to drive innovation, as well as stressed the crucial role of the European Green Deal, advocating for caution and transparent measurement of climate goals. Social cohesion was another of the focal points, as Ivanova pledged to integrate local initiatives like the New European Bauhaus, invest in education and skills, promote gender equality, and enhance basic skills within the European education area. She highlighted Erasmus+ as a cornerstone program for European integration and committed to establishing an EU office in Kyiv for Horizon Europe, along with an IT hub to support Ukraine’s recovery.
MEPs had an overall friendly approach during the hearing, despite some posing harsher questions, which were answered in a neutral tone and without slips. It is safe to say that the same treatment won’t be reserved for Wopke Hoekstra, the next in line to face questioning by the Parliament. While the nomination of Ms Ivanova hasn’t sparked any particular controversies, the designation of the Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs to succeed the EU Green Deal Chief Frans Timmermans has been widely criticized. Arguments against his nomination include his political affiliation with the EPP, deemed problematic by S&D given the group’s stance on climate reforms, some statements he made while serving as Finance Minister during the Covid-19 pandemic and his past work for the fossil fuel company Shell. So far Hoekstra has gained the endorsement of the President of the EU Commission von der Leyen and the Commissioner for Environment Sinkevičius, who said he had “no doubt in the president’s choice”. In the event of a positive outcome of the hearing, Mr Hoekstra will take office as Commissioner in charge of Climate action under the supervision of Maroš Šefčovič, appointed Executive Vice-President for the European Green Deal.
Gabriel and Timmermans’ shoes might not be the only ones in need of filling before the end of this term. As Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager is running for the presidency of the European Investment Bank she announced she will be taking a leave from the EU Commission until the appointment is made. Until then, her portfolios will be split between Commissioner for Justice Reynders, who will oversee competition, and Vice-President and Commissioner for Values and Transparency Jourová, who will take up the digital portfolio. In the case of Vestager’s appointment, the College of Commissioners would find itself short of yet another official.