Mariya Gabriel currently serves as European Commissioner for innovation and research, overseeing programmes such as Horizon Europe and Erasmus.
Mariya Gabriel, the European Commissioner for innovation and research, has been nominated by the centre-right GERB party to be Bulgaria’s next prime minister in what appears to be a technocratic bet to help the country overcome years of political instability.
The nomination was confirmed on Wednesday morning by Boyko Borisov, the controversial former prime minister and current leader of the GERB party, who said Gabriel’s present tasks covered topics that had a prominent presence in the party’s priorities, according to Euronews Bulgaria.
Borisov also said talks would focus on securing the necessary votes to successfully appoint a new GERB-led government. The centre-right party won 69 seats in the last parliamentary elections, well short of the 121 seats required to form a majority.
This means Gabriel, if successful in her bid, will lead a coalition government with like-minded parties.
A fluent French-speaking official, Gabriel has served as European Commissioner since 2017, when she replaced Kristalina Georgieva, now the head of the International Monetary Fund, as commissioner in charge of the digital economy and society.
After the arrival of Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels, Gabriel was assigned a beefed-up portfolio of innovation, research, culture, education and youth, which includes the €95.5 billion Horizon Europe programme and the Erasmus student exchange.
Prior to that, the 43-year-old had served as Member of the European Parliament, sitting with the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), the largest formation in the hemicycle.
A European Commission spokesperson confirmed Gabriel spoke with President Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday and was granted an “unpaid leave” on Wednesday, which will be in place while she participates in the “possible formation” of a new government in Bulgaria.
During her absence, her portfolio will be managed by Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager and Vice President Margaritis Schinas, the spokesperson said.
“In accordance with our institutional obligations and cooperation, the Commission will also inform the European Parliament and the Council of this development,” the spokesperson added.
If Gabriel eventually manages to be appointed prime minister, her government will be asked to send a replacement to Brussels. The candidate will be expected to retain Gabriel’s tasks but only after undergoing a confirmation before the European Parliament.
Reacting to the news, EPP President Manfred Weber said Gabriel had “the experience and international authority to overcome the political stalemate in Sofia.”
“Full support for our sister party GERB-Udf for putting the interests of the country first,” Weber tweeted on Wednesday morning.
Bulgarian politics have suffered from instability in recent years, going through four different prime ministers, including Borisov, and five parliamentary elections since 2021.
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