Drama erupted at a European Parliament committee confirmation hearing of would-be European Commissioner Roumyana Zheleva of Bulgaria, who faced repeated questions about alleged failures to disclose business interests.
Following up allegations made publicly earlier in the day on January 12 2010 about Zheleva, who was a member of the European Parliament from 2007 to 2009, having failed to disclose her ownership and management of a consultancy, MEPs from parties critical of her candidacy questioned her time and again on the issue.
Even before the formal question session started, some parties used their opening statements to raise the issue.
Zheleva, in her opening remarks, ignored the issue, but it was raised about six times in individual questions in the first 90 minutes of proceedings.
Zheleva said that she had documentation proving that all such allegations were false. She said "I am not the owner" of the consultancy company.
An attempt to distribute documentation at the committee hearing failed when a point of order was raised that it was solely in Bulgarian and German and had not been translated into the other EU official languages.
Zheleva told the committee hearing that the allegations, including those raised in some media reports, had arisen from a letter written by Antonia Purvanova, who heads the European Parliamentary delegation of the National Movement for Stability and Progress, a former governing party of Bulgaria that was ousted from power and Bulgaria's Parliament in the 2009 elections won by the party of which Zheleva is a member.
As the hearings wore on, Zheleva appeared flustered and 20 minutes into the question session, switched to her native Bulgarian from the English that she had been speaking initially. When, after some time, questioning returned to topics related to her proposed portfolio - international co-operation, humanitarian aid and emergency response - she returned to answering questions in English.
Purvanova was given special leave, after a point of order was requested, to address the committee. She alleged that notwithstanding Zheleva's statements to the contrary, Zheleva had put herself in a position that was not in accordance with Bulgarian law.
Amid an increasingly heated atmosphere, a proposal was made to adjourn proceedings pending clarity on the allegations against Zheleva, but the chairperson of proceedings said that the question of inquiring into the matter would be left to the co-ordinators to resolve.
"I have really nothing to hide," Zheleva told the committee. Earlier, she said, in response to questions about reports involving her husband - who has been the subject of allegations about which Zheleva has said she will take court action for defamation: "There is nothing illegal in my activities or those of my husband".
She said that anyone who doubted her protestations of innocence was welcome to visit her country to investigate. "Will you come to Bulgaria?" Zheleva challenged one particularly determined inquisitor, Judith Sargentini, Dutch MEP for the GreenLeft party, even inviting her to her home city of Burgas.
More than 30 minutes later in proceedings, when questioning was about matters related to her proposed portfolio, Zheleva was asked -- in what could be seen as a reference to the earlier part of grilling -- about how she would deal with getting resources from EU countries that were under financial pressure and would be reluctant to spend.
How good are you at dealing with 27 countries that don't believe what you are saying, Zheleva was asked.
She replied that, as Foreign Minister of Bulgaria, she was accustomed to the difficulty of getting consensus at meetings of the councils of ministers.
Pressed repeatedly on the difficulty of sending humanitarian aid to areas such as Sudan and Gaza, Zheleva failed to give specific answers but said she would be visiting these troubled areas as a matter of priority.
Zheleva concluded her grilling with a closing statement that received rather muted applause. Early indications were that her answers were rather short on specifics and had not won over her audience. A journalist, questioning her at the post-hearing press conference, said that he believed that the consensus of opinion was that it would now be difficult to confirm her. Zheleva smiled and said she was still confident that her appointment would be confirmed.
A Swedish journalist again pressed her on whether she had sold the company Global Consult, when she had sold it and how much for. Zheleva said that she had sold the company but could not remember the selling price, adding that "it was not a great sum".
A decision on Zheleva's confirmation is due on January 26 2010.