MEPs declined to give approval to Hungary’s candidate to join incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s top team, instead asking the longtime diplomat to answer additional questions in writing.
The decision by members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs not to green light Olivér Várhelyi for the neighborhood and enlargement post creates another headache for von der Leyen and casts more doubt on the incoming Commission’s chances of taking office on December 1 — already a month later than planned.
Committee members representing the Greens, Socialists and Democrats, Renew Europe and the European United Left/Nordic Green Left asked for the extra questions, while the other political families backed the Hungarian for the commissioner post, officials said. Those voting in favor of the Hungarian candidate garnered 30 votes, falling short of the required two-thirds to approve a future commissioner.
The decision followed a three-hour hearing in which Várhelyi told MEPs that he will act independently of the Hungarian government.
Currently Hungary’s ambassador to the EU, the candidate faced tough questions on the future of EU enlargement policy. At the same time, some critics say the portfolio is not suitable for a Hungarian nominee because of Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s stance on a number of issues. Orbán is seen as overly close to Russian President Vladimir Putin; his government is at odds with Brussels over the rule of law; and opponents decry what they regard as Hungarian government meddling in the western Balkans and undermining of Ukraine’s security ties to NATO.
Várhelyi told legislators he will be working for the EU and the EU alone, and will “not accept any interference” from the government of any member state.
But some MEPs were left unimpressed. “We give him opportunities to emancipate himself from #Orban on golden platter, @OliverVarhelyi keeps throwing them away,” Green MEP Sergey Lagodinsky tweeted.
The leaders of Renew Europe and the Socialists and Democrats had initially planned on greenlighting Várhelyi’s candidacy but later backtracked, according to several MEPs.
Coordinators from the Committee on Foreign Affairs are expected to meet on Monday to assess the candidate.
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