‘I’m clean’, Macron’s EU candidate says over corruption claims

European Internal Market Commissioner-designate Sylvie Goulard of France attends her hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Walschaerts

Sylvie Goulard, France’s choice to be the next head of European Union industrial policy, on Wednesday denied wrongdoing during her time as an EU lawmaker, the latest candidate to face a hostile reception in confirmation hearings for the EU executive.

Questioned about a fictional jobs scandal at the European Parliament and for taking high-paid work as an adviser for a U.S. think-tank, Goulard told the assembly she had declared all her income and had never been indicted by French prosecutors.

“I’m clean,” said Goulard, who said she was cleared by EU investigators to come to Wednesday’s hearing after she was questioned as part of an inquiry that is still under way but in which Goulard is not the main focus.

Winning the confirmation of Goulard, who was proposed by French President Emmanuel Macron, is crucial for incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Goulard, an experienced former French diplomat and former EU lawmaker, would manage a new multi-billion euro defence fund proposed from 2021 under von der Leyen.

But her picks for the EU executive have faced unprecedented resistance from the assembly in hearings this month.

Von der Leyen, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and who was also proposed by Macron, is seeking a strong mandate to take on a host of challenges for the next five years, ranging from anti-EU populists at home to a more assertive China abroad.

She insists there be “no doubt” of her team’s integrity.

Following Macron’s 2017 election victory, Goulard was appointed defence minister but resigned barely a month into the job after an investigation into the way her political party, MoDem, hired assistants in the European assembly.

Goulard, who if confirmed would take office on Nov. 1, said the funds had been repaid and that she considered the affair a human resources issue rather than a legal one.

She was also pressed on her work for the U.S.-based Berggruen Institute during her time as an EU lawmaker, where she received more than 10,000 euros a month from 2013 to 2016. Some EU lawmakers considered that a financial conflict of interest.

“You cannot arouse suspicions without proof (of wrongdoing),” she said. “Everything was legal, I declared everything … My work was to promote European integration.”

Goulard said she risked becoming a victim of a “political game” among rival political groups in the European Parliament, particularly at the hands of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).

Macron, who has joined the liberals in the parliament, in July killed off an EPP initiative to decide who would become the next head of the powerful European Commission, which helps decide policy for 500 million Europeans, based on the results of the European elections last May.

Von der Leyen was eventually proposed by Macron and agreed by EU leaders, but EU lawmakers are unwilling to rubber-stamp von der Leyen’s proposed candidates in the confirmation hearings.

The assembly has already rejected candidates from Hungary and Romania, citing financial irregularities, while her pick’s from Poland and Sweden failed to convince lawmakers on Tuesday and may face a second round of questioning.