European Commission President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker gestures
Brussels - AFP
The EU Commission's incoming chief, Jean-Claude Juncker, made a last-minute reshuffle to his team Wednesday in a bid to meet a November 1 deadline to start work on reviving the flagging eurozone economy.
Juncker tapped Slovenia's little-known deputy prime minister Violeta Bulc as transport commissioner, rushing through the appointment less than a week after the European Parliament rejected the country's previous nominee.
He also shunted Slovakia's Maros Sefcovic from the transport role to become vice president for energy union, a key job at a time of tensions with the EU's major gas supplier Russia.
The energy job was originally earmarked for Slovenia's first candidate, former premier Alenka Bratusek -- but after Bratusek was discarded on October 9, her replacement Bulc was widely regarded as too inexperienced.
Both Bulc and Sefcovic now face confirmation hearings in front of the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Monday night in a bid to ensure the vote happens on time, parliamentary sources said.
Parliament then holds a crucial vote on whether to approve Juncker's whole team in a vote on October 22, the day before a summit of EU leaders in Brussels.
The other commissioners -- each EU member state chooses one -- all passed their hearings earlier this month.Juncker's new European Commission is due to start its five-year term at the beginning of November as the powerful executive arm of the European Union, a 28-nation bloc of 500 million people.
- 'New Age thinking' -
But the problems with Slovenia have left Juncker struggling to meet that date so he can start work on his flagship plan to draw 300 billion euros ($380 billion) of investment to drag the eurozone economy away from a possible triple-dip recession.
"I cannot say with certainly that the Juncker Commission will start work on November 1 as we speak," Juncker's spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a daily briefing.
EU sources said France and Germany had been privately pressing the European Parliament to get the Commission through on time so it could start to tackle the eurozone's woes, which are causing global concern.
The fear is that the current commission led by Portugal's Jose Manuel Barroso, who took office in 2004, will become a lame duck administration if it is forced to stay on beyond November.
Bulc, 50, faces a tough confirmation hearing, as the Slovenian has raised eyebrows in Brussels with her relative political inexperience and a fondness for New Age thinking.
Slovenian Prime Minister Miro Cerar welcomed Juncker's decision to appoint her."She will be in charge of a very challenging and important portfolio in the European Commission, important both for the EU and for Slovenia, that represents one of Europe's main transport crossroads that in the past hasn't been adequatly used," Cerar said.
Sefcovic made it through his first hearing with few problems but has to face parliament again because he is now up for a different role.
The rest of former Luxembourg prime minister Juncker's nominess got through the confirmation hearings despite strong reservations about several candidates.
The financial services czar, Britain's Jonathan Hill, was dragged back for an unprecedented second interview by parliament but made it through, while France's former finance minister Pierre Moscovici passed despite German concerns about his record when he was in charge of France's deficit.
Spain's Miguel Arias Canete is meanwhile set to take the energy and climate role despite claims of a conflict of interest over oil shares, and a row over sexist comments that he made about an election rival.
Juncker himself was approved by parliament earlier this year. In a sign of parliament's growing assertiveness, it won the right this year to effectively nominate candidates for the commission chief itself.