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How important is the Education, Youth, Sport and Culture portfolio?

Mariya Gabriel [Facebook page of Mariya Gabriel]

By Georgi Gotev

There are strong indications that Bulgaria’s Mariya Gabriel will get the Education, Youth, Sport and Culture portfolio, previously held by the most invisible of all commissioners – Hungary’s Tibor Navracsics. The first indication came during the visit of Ursula von der Leyen to Bulgaria on 29 August. The Commission President-elect surprisingly made compliments for Bulgaria’s investment in teachers’ salaries, and this website wrote that her focus on education may suggest that this will be the portfolio of the Bulgarian commissioner. 

Such a decision could be seen as a disappointment in Sofia. Prime Minister Boyko Borissov had expressed wishes for another portfolio covering the digital single market, and also cybersecurity. Indeed, Directorate General EAC (Education and Culture), which falls directly under the Education, Youth, Sport and Culture commissioner, contributes to the commissioner responsible for the Digital Single Market. But for Mariya Gabriel this looks more like a demotion. She is getting a “junior” Commissioner post. But honestly, her modest CV does not vouch for more.

DG EAC has actually a director-general and the Commissioner on the top of it has a completely artificial job. The Junker Commission, in its 10 top priorities, failed to give due prominence to education and culture. In the Commission’s priorities for 2018 the words ‘education’, ‘culture’, ‘youth’ and ‘sport’ don’t even appear a single time (in contrast the word ‘digital’ appears 12 times). And it’s difficult to argue that there is any significant common EU legislation in this area.

Maybe von de Leyen’s ideas in this field would be different. But this unlikely, given that the structure of her future team appears very conservative, similar to the outgoing one.

On the side of the European Parliament, the Commission’s work is overseen by the CULT committee (Education and Culture), chaired by Sabine Verheyen (EPP, Germany). Among its members are Bulgaria’s Asim Ademov (DPS, Renew Europe) and Andrey Slabakov (VMRO, ECR). No major hiccups are expected to occur at the hearing – Garbiel will prepare well.  

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