European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen has offered Czech nominee Věra Jourová a post in her team focusing on democracy issues, two senior officials told POLITICO.
The portfolio would focus on the rule of law, and include related issues such as disinformation and hate speech, according to the officials.
The move is likely part of von der Leyen’s outreach to the Visegrad Four countries — Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Some Central European leaders have accused the outgoing Commission of unfairly focusing on the region when it comes to rule of law probes.
One of the officials said “it is likely” that Jourová would accept the post, but others warn that the new Commission’s structure is still in flux.
The official suggested Jourová could be in line for the post because von der Leyen wants someone from a former communist country from Central and Eastern Europe in the job.
The EU has struggled to address what critics describe as democratic backsliding in some member states. The Article 7 process, the bloc’s formal mechanism for dealing with rule-of-law challenges, which has been triggered against both Poland and Hungary, has stalled in both cases.
The new Commission democracy post would likely include responsibility for overseeing the development and implementation of a new annual rule-of-law review mechanism, which von der Leyen has pledged to support but which could face strong opposition from countries such as Hungary.
In her political guidelines, von der Leyen wrote that she stands by a proposal to link EU funding to rule of law criteria and intends to focus on “tighter enforcement” when it comes to rule-of-law breaches.
At the same time, if she becomes the formal candidate for the post, Jourová — who currently serves as commissioner for justice, consumers and gender equality — could face scrutiny from MEPs due to her position as a member of the same political party as Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. The prime minister has faced criticism at home, as well as a judicial probe, over alleged misuse of EU funds by his company Agrofert.
Nevertheless, in Brussels Jourová is perceived as largely independent of her prime minister when it comes to policy issues.
In response to a request for comment, Commission spokesperson Mina Andreeva, speaking on behalf of the transition team, said that “nothing is decided until everything is decided.”
“The puzzle can only be completed once all the pieces of the puzzle are there,” she added.
Maïa de La Baume contributed reporting
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