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EUobserver: Conservatives Counter-attack in Defense of Jeleva.

The Parliament's centre-right group mounted an attack on one of the left's commissioner candidates on Wednesday, while defending their own contested nominee from Bulgaria.

The political scrap may delay plans to have the next European Commission up and running on 1 February.

At the centre of the dispute stands Rumiana Jeleva, the Bulgarian nominee for the portfolio of humanitarian aid, who was accused of lying about her financial interests during stormy hearings on Tuesday (12 January). The parliament's legal services are currently looking into her financial declarations.

Socialist leader Martin Schulz has reportedly sent a letter to Jose Manuel Barroso "to inform him of the very serious doubts the group has regarding the Bulgarian candidate," his spokesman Armin Machmer told AFP.

But the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) is strongly defending Ms Jeleva, a former MEP with the group, who is in their view the victim of a "witch hunt" and "unfair treatment" by the rivaling parties.

"We will defend the integrity of her personality against unfounded allegations," EPP deputy chairman Jozsef Szajer, in charge of the commissioners' hearings, told journalists on Wednesday.

He labeled as "minor" the potential conflict of interest of Ms Jeleva, but noted that the issue should be cleared by Bulgarian authorities, Mr Barroso and herself.

That same briefing, which was advertised to journalists as being about Ms Jeleva, was used to launch an attack on a commissioner candidate from the Socialist family, the parliament's second largest group after the EPP.

Mr Szajer insisted that this was not a tit-for-tat move, despite admitting it may be interpreted that way.

He distributed prints of a document drafted by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), an intergovernmental body monitoring elections, frozen conflicts and human rights around the world.

It cited Maros Sefcovic, the Slovakian nominee for vice-president of the commission in charge of administrative affairs, as saying that ethnic Roma were "exploiters of the Slovak welfare system." The statement was allegedly made in 2005, while Mr Sefcovic was Bratislava's envoy to Brussels.

The EPP will challenge Mr Sefcovic during his hearings on Monday in Strasbourg, Mr Szajer said, while avoiding giving a clear answer on whether his group is prepared to veto the whole commission over this.

For his part, the Slovak candidate said he did not recall ever making the statement.

"Mr Sefcovic deeply regrets if anything he may have said in the past has caused offence to anyone," his cabinet said in a statement, pointing to his efforts of helping the Roma community in Slovakia.

Meanwhile, the head of the main German conservative party in the parliament, Werner Langen, said that his group also had concerns over Finland's liberal candidate for the post of economic affairs commissioner, Olli Rehn, whose hearing was on Monday, calling his performance "subdued", DPA reports.

The political bickering may delay the vote on the whole commission, planned for 26 January. The parliament cannot vote down individual candidates, only the commission as a whole, but it can force the replacement of candidates or portfolios, as it did two candidates and one dossier in 2004.
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Publication:Sofia News Agency
Date:Jan 14, 2010
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