The EU parliament's legal committee refused last week to recommend that Rovana Plumb of Romania and Laszlo Trocsanyi of Hungary be allowed to face official hearings that would determine whether they are fit to take up new commission portfolios in the EU's powerful executive arm when it takes office in November.
Plumb was in line to become the EU's top transport official. Trocsanyi was slated to become the commissioner in charge of future EU expansion, leading negotiations with candidate member countries. Attention focused on Plumb over some loans she had taken out, while Trocsanyi was questioned about a legal firm he founded in 1991. Both have denied any wrongdoing or conflicts of interest.
In a move that surprised some legal committee lawmakers, a new vote on the nominees was put on the agenda Monday. After it was taken, EU Parliament spokesman Jaume Duch Guillot tweeted that the two "are unable to exercise his or her functions in accordance with the (EU) treaties and the code of conduct."
But French lawmaker Manon Aubry — a member of the committee — complained that the parliamentarians "were forced" into a second vote. "In what democracies are deputies forced to vote until the desired result is obtained?" she asked.
"This anti-democratic precedent is scandalous," she tweeted. "We held our positions: the two candidates are rejected, but the attack on democracy and the weaknesses of this procedure remain." The committee's vice president, Sergey Lagodinsky, tweeted that the vote "is a victory for parliamentary democracy."
In a statement, Trocsanyi said he had learned of the committee's decision "with great consternation" and suggested he would take legal action. "The decision in question is indeed a collection of lies, wrong shortcuts and tendentious amalgam," said the former Hungarian justice minister, who is also a lawyer.
The commission, the EU's massive bureaucracy with around 33,000 staff, proposes laws for the 28 EU nations and makes sure they're enforced. It runs everything from trade talks to consumer protection to privacy and anti-trust policies, as well as supervising national budgets and farm subsidies.
It's the first time that commission candidates have faced conflict of interest hearings. It will now be up to incoming commission president Ursula von der Leyen to decide, together with the Hungarian and Romanian governments which put forward the two, what actions to take.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been a harsh critic of the current EU commission led by Jean-Claude Juncker has proposed that the country's ambassador in Brussels, Oliver Verhelyi, take Trocsanyi's place, according to an EU official with close knowledge of the negotiations who asked for anonymity because the information was not public.
The current EU parliament was elected in May. Around 60% of the 751 lawmakers in the transnational assembly are new to the job.
AP writer Raf Casert in Brussels contributed to this report.