Kristalina Georgieva's Appointment Could Bring About a Change to Bulgarian Politics
Just hours before Jean-Claude Juncker unveiled the official distribution of portfolios in the new EU executive, an article kindly reminded me that commissioners tend to defend their national interest, "but it has to be done with subtlety".
Clearly enough, it was national interests and lobbies that fought a tremendous (albeit somehow covert) media battle which had to move certain names up on Juncker's agenda.
Kristalina Georgieva, Bulgaria's new old representative in what increasingly looks like a European government, made no exception.
A representative of a small country the existence of which Europeans had long ignored, she suddenly leaped from a portfolio serving Europe's noble cause to promote international cooperation, assistance and modern values (and also helping polish EU's image abroad) to one running the household.
It would be difficult to conceal the fact the 140-billion-euro budget is not where Georgieva could go it alone, since Vice-Presidents are entitled to work closely with Juncker himself.
A closer look at the list of all seven countries having entered the Commission's "second gear" (the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Italy) displays some interesting trends. Vice Presidents come either from Central and Eastern Europe, i.e. the new member states, or from traditional "slackers" of certain policies which have often claimed they have been snubbed on specific issues.
Most of them, on the other hand, include formerly prominent government figures in the countries of origin. Jyrki Katainen, Alenka Bratusek, Valdis Dombrovskis and Andrus Ansip were all Prime Ministers, while Frans Timmermans and Federica Mogherini, First Vice-President and High Representative respectively, are known as their countries' outgoing top diplomats.
Georgieva seems to be the odd one out at a first glance; but even this is not entirely true. Even though she has never had a formal role within the Bulgarian national government, for a certain stretch of time she did enjoy a skyrocketing degree of popularity here as a Commissioner, especially if compared to members of the local executive.
Such a selection leaves a lot of room for speculation, but one this can be seen for sure: Juncker has sought to both reward certain countries by promoting powerful figures (and stem the flow on inherent governmental and/or societal Euroskepticism) and to secure the loyalty (and active involvement) of the new member states whilst promoting the image of the Commission as an all-inclusive body which never discriminates against the positions of Europe's South and East.
Indeed, if combined with the backdoor maneuvers of "top" member states, Juncker's final choice makes it difficult to argue that Bulgaria did anything to secure Georgieva's post (and to prevent Poland's Elzbieta Bienkowska from replacing her, for instance).
Bulgarian politicians seemed to know this back when Georgieva was repeatedly described as "a strong contender" to get foreign policy.
However, it was precisely the notion of "helplessness", with a pinch of the usual Bulgarian skepticism, where Bulgaria missed the point.
Georgi Bliznashki's caretaker government chose to firmly embrace her candidacy hours after assuming office. The fact that the previous one (also an elected one), that of Plamen Oreshasrki, refrained from doing so does not explain EU leaders' final decision that Mogherini, and not other bidders including Georgieva, should be the bloc's High Representative.
Days after the foreign policy chief was picked at a EU summit, it is clear the Bulgarian candidate could not have taken over from Catherine Ashton, for reasons of both national (e.g. Bulgaria's stance in Europe) and EU (the allocation of top jobs between left and right) essence.
To place an emphasis on the unlikelihood that your country's Commissioner candidate stands chances to be granted a high-profile position, however, was just proved to be wrong.
Alongside other government officials, former Foreign Minister Kristian Vigenin was among who rushed to downplay such a prospect (a move that is perhaps inexplicable to an outside viewer, since Oresharski had raised her nomination just days earlier). Many experts found a good reason, reminding that Georgieva was conservative (and raised by center-right GERB as the Bulgarian EU Commissioner), while Vigenin himself is socialist.
We don't know whether GERB would have backed a socialist High Representative candidate if they were in power, but it is pointless even to think about it; national unity in Bulgarian politics is a feature yet to be developed. Notwithstanding, Georgieva's appointment, which followed the previous mixed governmental reception of her candidacy (even of the mere fact she was a front-runner to get a top job), could teach Bulgarians a lesson.
Firstly, it reveals new opportunities for Bulgaria. Of the EUR 140 B (1% of EU GDP) forming the bloc's budget, a certain (and quite not insignificant) portion comes back to member states as structural and investment funds, agricultural assistance, etc. Though Bulgaria's share has already been fixed, she might encourage the government to absorb more efficiently, since one could easily assume Bulgaria will now be in the limelight concerning budgetary affairs, not because of the country's weight but because of its flaws. The EU's rhetoric when addressing Bulgaria over the past years (and the past months especially) casts doubt over PM Bliznashki's Wednesday comments the appointment of Georgieva showed Europe's trust in Sofia; it is rather the other way around.
Not only will the Vice President for Budget and Human Resources have a say in the coordination, but also in the implementation of budget-related policies.
Georgieva's ability to get along with all political families within the European Parliament will also ensure smooth cooperation with MEPs, a key condition for passing documents through EP.
It is to be seen whether the term "Finance Minister", which some Bulgarian media outlets have already used to describe Georgieva's position, is accurate enough.
As it was noted above, she will hardly be able to take decisions on her own and will be unable to openly serve national interests; she could nevertheless seek to subtly do so.
Secondly, her success is huge, since it came not due to national political efforts, but despite those of the previous government to deny support.
Juncker himself elaborated Georgieva had managed to win the admiration of heads of state and governments and also of MEPs and to forge an "impressive network" of international contacts, as the website EurActiv quoted him as saying.
Whether one "likes" such politicians or not, whether their activities can or cannot be positively assessed, they can boost a country's prestige and secure certain leverage. It is then up to a member state if it manages to use that leverage for its own good (subtly, of course) or fails consumed by party infighting.
The former scenario could untie the hands of the Sofia government to finally take a more active part in the clash of interests, which the EU vividly encourages.
The latter option, on the other hands, would bring no harm to Bulgaria: it will be just "more of the same" in the country's divisive politics.
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