Boiko Borisov – former fire-fighter, bodyguard, karate black belt, and most recently Mayor of Sofia – won the Bulgarian general elections, with his centre right party (GERB) gaining a landslide victory of 40%, beating the ruling Socialists by a 22% margin.
Other than a change in government and new negotiators around the table of the Council of Ministers, the election outcome may have one more important consequence for Brussels. Current Consumer Protection Commissioner Meglena Kuneva, who was elected to the European Parliament a month ago, may be persuaded by Sofia to vacate her position in the Commission.
Highly respected in Brussels, Commissioner Kuneva has a good chance of retaining her post in the Commission if the new Borisov government thinks that her popularity will secure an important portfolio for Bulgaria. Yet voices in Sofia reproach her for not having supported more vehemently the Bulgarian cause in the EU, and Kuneva’s liberal party suffered a resounding defeat on Sunday.
Therefore alternatives exist, and The Lobby has heard that the most likely person to replace Kuneva is rumoured to be EPP Vice Chair Rumiana Jeleva, a founding member of GERB, who has been sitting in the European Parliament’s Regional Committee for the last two years.
While Jeleva may not possess sufficient standing within Brussels to obtain a key post in the new Commission, her expertise in regional policy may well give her a fighting chance of replacing departing Regional Commissioner, the Pole Danuta Hübner. After all, heading the department that takes the spending decisions on the EU’s cohesion and structural funds would be an attractive alternative for Bulgaria – currently one of the poorest countries in the EU.