Hungary’s Varhelyi Cleared for EU Enlargement Post

Hungarian Oliver Varhelyi was cleared by the European Parliament as the bloc's new neighbourhood and enlargement commissioner on Monday, overcoming doubts among some MEPs about his ability to encourage and assess reform in aspiring member states in light of his own country's perceived backsliding on democracy.

The nationalist government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, at loggerheads with Brussels over the rule of law, media freedom and court independence, proposed Varhelyi for the job after its previous candidate was rejected by the parliament over conflict of interest concerns.

Career diplomat Varhelyi was grilled last week by MEPs, particularly from the S&D and Green/EFA blocs, and was asked to provide additional written answers by Monday.

The questions were not published but surfaced online on Friday and laid bare concerns about Varhelyi's credibility in encouraging and assessing reform in light of the European Commission's own standoff with Budapest over its commitment to the bloc's founding principles.

The MEPs also appeared concerned about Orban's alleged meddling in the Balkans and close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Seemingly satisfied by his answers, the parliament's foreign affairs committee on Monday cleared Varhelyi to take over from Austria's Johannes Hahn. MEPs of both the S&D and Renew blocs, which had reservations after Varhelyi's appearance last week, joined in endorsing him for the post on Monday.

The full line-up of the new European Commission, led by President Ursula von der Leyen, needs to be approved by the European Parliament, likely by the assembly's plenary session on November 27.

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