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MEPs disqualify two candidates for new EU Commission

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Brussels (AFP)

European lawmakers vetting candidates to form the new European Commission declared on Monday two of the 26 are unfit to take office, due to conflicts of interest.

The nominees put forward by Hungary and Romania were rejected by the European Parliament's legal affairs committee just ahead of confirmation hearings for the team picked by incoming Commission president Ursula von der Leyen.

A German member of the committee, Tiemo Woelken, tweeted that members had decided that Romania's Rovana Plumb and Hungary's Laszlo Trocsanyi are "unfit to become commissioners."

French member Manon Aubry told journalists that a vote Monday confirmed the committee's finding last week that the two commissioners "cannot take office because of conflicts of interest".

The decision weakens von der Leyen's hand as the European Parliament holds confirmation hearings for the remaining commissioner candidates from Monday, running to October 8.

It also obliges Hungary and Romania to put forward new candidates.

Most of the rest of the team chosen by von der Leyen -- who is already confirmed -- are expected to get through the grilling, forming a near gender-balanced executive drawn from across the European bloc's member states.

But the legal affairs committee pre-empted the wider parliament's hearings by using a new power to scrutinise candidates.

Trocsanyi, meant to take charge of EU enlargement issues, was tripped up over government contracts awarded to his law firm.

But Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban claimed the only "sin" of Trocsanyi -- his former justice minister -- was helping "to stop migration".

Plumb, a former Romanian labour minister, was stymied over two problematic loans that raised suspicions of corruption.

- Uncomfortable questions -

Both candidates were effectively suspended from the confirmation process as a result.

Hungary and Romania both initially stood by their candidates, but have said they have no lack of replacement names if necessary.

A spokeswoman for the European Commission said that von der Leyen would decide whether or not to ask for new nominees after she is officially informed by the parliamentary speaker of the committee's decision.

Some of the other designated commissioners also have clouds hanging over them. But, while they were likely to have uncomfortable questions thrown at them in the public hearings, they were seen as being under less pressure.

The EU's anti-fraud office OLAF declined to recommend charges against Poland's candidate commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, after he reimbursed 11,250 euros ($12,300) for travel expenses improperly claimed while he was an MEP.

A similar OLAF probe into France's Sylvie Goulard remains open, but she too has already paid back 45,000 euros.

Belgium's Didier Reynders had a corruption probe against him set aside on Friday, while Spain's Josep Borrell -- named to become the EU's foreign policy chief -- was fined 30,000 euros last year for insider trading.

- No British candidate -

The European Parliamentary hearings were expected to also touch on a controversy von der Leyen created by giving the title of "Protecting our European Way of Life" to the commissioner in charge of migration.

Three commissioners-designate were to appear for hearings on Monday: Slovakia's Maros Sefkovic, to handle interinstitutional relations; Ireland's Phil Hogan, for trade; and Bulgaria's Mariya Gabriel, for innovation and youth.

The hearings end with von der Leyen's three executive vice presidents being quizzed.

Britain is the one EU member state without a future commissioner in the mix as its government is intent on it leaving the bloc on October 31, the day before the new European Commission takes office.

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