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MEPs reject Hungary's pick for EU commissioner but approves those of France and Romania

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MEPs reject Hungary's pick for EU commissioner but approves those of France and Romania
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MEPs have blocked Hungary's latest pick for EU commissioner but given the green light to those of France and Romania.

The top team of the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, is made up of 27 commissioners, one from each member state.

Ursula von der Leyen is currently trying to assemble her line-up for the 2019-2024 European Commission, which has to be approved by the European Parliament.

The new commission was meant to start work on November 1, but this date was put back a month after MEPs blocked candidates from France, Romania and Hungary,

The trio had to put forward new nominees to Brussels and the European Parliament gave its opinion on them today (November 14).

It came as the European Commission launched infringement proceedings against the UK for not putting a commission candidate forward.

Read more: Brussels launches legal action against the UK over commissioner row

Hungary's Oliver Varhelyi: needs further questioning

MEPs rejected Hungary's Commissioner-designate in a first hearing, which means Oliver Varhelyi will have to answer additional written questions in the coming days before his candidacy can be approved.

Varhelyi, who has been put forward for the neighbourhood and enlargement portfolio, was quizzed by MEPs from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“We need to open accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania," said Varhelyi in his pitch.

"At the same time, we also need a more effective accession process and preparations that are focussed on delivering tangible results more quickly for people in their daily lives.”

Varhelyi was grilled by MEPs on his independence from the Hungarian government and Viktor Orban's policy.

Some MEPs, the European Parliament said in a statement, "voiced serious concerns over how Mr Várhelyi will be capable of promoting the rule of law and fundamental rights in the enlargement countries, given that his own country, Hungary, has passed several laws in clear breach of the EU Treaties over the last few years. Others expressed their worry over whether the Commissioner-designate’s loyalty will lie with the Hungarian government or the EU as a whole".

Despite repeating several times that he would work independently from Orban as an EU Commissioner, MEPs voted against his approval, by 30 votes in favour to 36 votes against.

Among the MEPs who supported his candidacy were those from the EPP group, of which Orban's party Fidesz has been suspended.

"The hearing of Oliver Varhelyi in the EP committee made it clear that there is a political, not a professional attack against the Hungarian commissioner candidate," Fidesz wrote in a statement. "The same pro-migration forces attack the candidate who attacked the Hungarian migration policy."

Ronai Sandor, an MEP sitting with the Socialists & Democrats group, commented: "Varhelyi said in vain that he will work independently from Orban, no one in Europe believes a man of Viktor Orban. That is the reason why the second candidate of the Hungarian PM failed".

One of the MEPs questioning Varhelyi, Sergey Lagodinsky, said that the Hungarian Commissioner-designate "consistently refused to distance himself from problematic positions of Orban":

Varhelyi is the second Hungarian candidate after the first, Laszló Trocsanyi, was rejected by the legal affairs committee due to similar worries regarding independence from Viktor Orban.

France's Thierry Breton: approved

French Commissioner-designate Thierry Breton was approved as EU Commissioner for the internal market portfolio.

Breton said during his hearing that the digital transformation and climate change will be high on his agenda, which the EU Parliament noted in a statement was in line with the priorities of soon-to-be EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

Breton defended “ambitious industrial policies”, the EU Parliament said, which should still be socially responsible, in order “not to leave anyone behind” and said that 5G, blockchain, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, cloud and quantum technologies would enable the EU to be a “key industrial player”.

MEPs questioned the French candidate on how he would deal with his broad portfolio (which includes competition, technological sovereignty, the services sector and the challenges posed by new technologies).

Breton was quizzed on his possible conflicts of interests, including the shares worth around €35 million that he owned with the Atos tech company, as former CEO.

“I sold all my shares”, Breton told MEPs during his speech.

Breton left his post as Atos CEO on November 1.

Thierry Breton was France's second Commissioner-designate, after Sylvie Goulard, French president Emmanuel Macron's first pick, was rejected by the European Parliament citing conflicts of interest.

Romania's Adina-Ioana Vălean: approved

Adina-Ioana Vălean, the Romanian Commissioner-designate for the transport portfolio, was questioned by Transport and Tourism Committee MEPs.

In a statement, the EU Parliament said Vălean's speech addressed the "Green Deal, working conditions and connecting Europe".

The Romanian Commissioner-designate pledged to "improving road safety" and "push for the completion of the Single European Sky to reduce airspace congestion and emissions", Parliament said, as well as "boost the uptake of clean vehicles and the deployment of publicly available refuelling and recharging points".

Vălean was quizzed by MEPs on her implementation of the Green Deal, including "measures to support workers in the sector and on how to improve transport connections in remote regions".

"Whereas some MEPs stressed the importance of completing the Single European Sky to cut emissions, others also asked whether she intends to support other measures such as the kerosene tax for the aviation sector and whether she intends to support climate-proofing projects financed by the EU", the EU Parliament noted.

She was green-lit by Parliament, which had rejected Romania's first candidate, Rovana Plumb.

The only group to reject her confirmation was the far-right parliamentary group Identity and Democracy.

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