Bulgarian designated commissioner Iliana Ivanova during a hearing by the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium, 05 September 2023. EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET


Summertime and the quizzing is easy for EC candidate Ivanova

Hearing participants seemed to be going through the motions. Most replies were covered by catchwords such as “green deal”, “cooperation”, “synergies”, “holistic approach" and “opportunities”, as was the case with written responses.


On the morning of September 5, the European Parliament “grilled” Bulgarian Iliana Ivanova as candidate for European Commissioner for innovation, research, culture, education and youth.

A year before the European parliamentary elections, the whole exercise of quizzing the former MEP, who since 2013 has been serving as a Member of the European Court of Auditors, looked somewhat less than challenging to many observers.

It was more or less a full house in the Parliament, at least implying a sense of duty among MEPs – but not much more. Ivanova is the candidate to replace Mariya Gabriel, who has returned to Bulgarian politics. Both are from the European Peoples Party (EPP)-affiliated GERB.

Participants seemed to be going through the motions. Most replies were covered by catchwords such as “green deal”, “cooperation”, “synergies”, “holistic approach” and “opportunities” as was the case with written responses.

Several Brussels Signal opinion pieces published recently showcase how the European Union appears to have a technology innovation problem and how the summer break illustrates what may be seen as the lacklustre ambition levels of the EU. The Ivanova hearing indicates no-one should expect much change.

Ivanova did not make a bad impression though, far from it, even speaking German and French in her introduction. Still, she stuck to English when answering questions, apart from when talking to her fellow Bulgarians. She also speaks Russian but unsurprisingly that language is not so popular in European circles at present.

Calling the hearing inspiring would be a stretch too far. People close to the matter told Brussels Signal that the main reasons Ivanova was chosen by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen were her gender and her being the “least bad” candidate from Bulgaria.

One source told Brussels Signal: “Trust me, that second reason is not complimentary.”

To illustrate, Ivanova’s answers to the questionnaire included such gems as: “I will proactively identify synergies and build bridges between the areas under my responsibility and all other relevant Commissioner policies and services.”

Another placid response was: “Horizon Europe is a competitive programme, the cumulative outcome of the pursuit of excellence and widening must be to ensure that the EU can compete globally in the most inclusive and sustainable way.

“Therefore, I will focus my efforts on pursuing a more holistic approach to address this challenge during the remaining time of the mandate,” among numerous other examples.

Her main responsibilities will be Horizon Europe, the long-term EU scientific research initiative, Erasmus +, the popular student exchange programme, and the European Research Area, designed to create a single, borderless market for research, innovation and technology across the EU.

The budgets involved are significant.

Ivanova promised to ensure “more efficiency”, banking on her credentials from the European Court of Auditors.

She had difficulties with more quirky questions, such as the Identity and Democracy Group asking her to define the “European identity”, and the Greens wanting to know her perspective on the “kissing incident” with the Spanish female World Cup-winning football team.

Here the administration had apparently not provided her with a well-prepared reply, and Ivanova had to dig deeper to find appropriate answers.

Still, the overall lukewarm show was likely what most power brokers wanted to hear – not rocking the boat too much – so that they could comfortably continue without incident.

Tomasz Frankowski MEP, the EPP Group’s Spokesman on Culture and Education, said: “After today’s hearing, I am convinced that Iliana Ivanova is the right person for this job.”

The parliamentary elections next year will likely provide a more definitive answer.

After Ivanova earned her Master’s degree in international economic relations, she served as a coordinator for international financial institutions at the Bulgarian Ministry of Agriculture and Food between 1999 and 2002.

From 2004 to 2006, she worked as an investment and business analyst at various financial and banking institutions in the United States. Additionally, she holds an MBA in Global Management.

She served as an MEP between 2009 and 2012  and followed that with her move to become a member of the European Court of Auditors.