By Alastair Macdonald
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Parliament rejected the appointment of a new energy chief for the bloc on Wednesday in a committee vote that will force the incoming head of the European Union executive, Jean-Claude Juncker, to reshuffle his team.
Alenka Bratusek, the former Slovenian prime minister chosen by Juncker to be his vice president for energy union, had looked set for a fall since a stumbling performance in a confirmation hearing on Monday. As a centrist who lacked the backing of her own government, she also fell victim to efforts by the main right and left parties in Brussels to share out key posts.
Angering the Greens and other smaller parties who accused the center-right and center-left of cooking up a backroom deal, the same committee meeting that found Bratusek unfit to serve on the Commission by a margin of about ten to one also approved the nomination of the controversial Spanish conservative Juncker has proposed as commissioner for energy and climate change.
Miguel Arias Canete was initially blocked last week by the center-left, which shared Greens concerns about his family ties to the oil industry. But lawmakers who attended the closed-door meeting on Wednesday said Canete was confirmed for the post by 77 votes to 48.
Finland's Jyrki Katainen was approved as vice president of the European Commission with responsibility for employment and economic growth, and British Conservative Jonathan Hill was endorsed to oversee the EU financial services and banking sectors. Hill had been forced to resit his confirmation hearings after some parliamentarians raised doubts about his candidacy.
Critics, notably from the Greens, accused the center-left S&D group of aligning itself with Juncker's center-right EPP to back a number of conservative candidates in order to defuse a threat by the EPP to veto the appointment of French Socialist Pierre Moscovici to the post of economics commissioner.
Rebecca Harms, a leader of the Greens group in the European Parliament, said in a statement: "While this evening's votes added some theatrics to the process of appointing the Commission, the cozy deal between the big political groups ensured the result was never really in doubt.
"Faced with various candidates who either had major question marks about conflicts of interest hanging over them or had failed to convince on their competence, MEPs from the bigger groups adopted a 'three monkeys' approach: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil."
A further vote is due on Wednesday on Valdis Dombrovskis of Latvia, who will share oversight of Moscovici and other commissioners.
A spokeswoman for Juncker said he was in "constant contact" with parliamentary leaders as he tries to get his proposed team through the confirmation process with as few changes as possible. Parliament, which saw a big influx of anti-EU members after an election in May, is keen to show its power.
There was no comment from Juncker after Bratusek's rejection. Lawmakers have said that the government in Ljubljana, which replaced Bratusek's administration in the summer, could nominate another woman, this time from its own center-left party, to replace her on the Commission. A likely choice may be European member of parliament Tanja Fajon.
The legislature can only accept or reject the Commission as a whole, in a vote scheduled for Oct. 22. But by showing their disapproval of individual nominees, parliamentary committees can pressure Juncker to change his line-up or their portfolios.
(Additional reporting by Barbara Lewis, editing by Peter Graff and David Evans)