French nominee for EU post denies wrongdoing in fraud case

BRUSSELS — France’s nominee for the next European Commission took a barrage of questions Wednesday from European Union lawmakers about alleged misuse of funds and consulting for a U.S. think-tank while she served in the EU’s parliament.

During a hostile hearing where the European Parliament assessed her suitability, Sylvie Goulard denied wrongdoing and stressed she had not been indicted in a French investigation. She resigned as French defence minister when the investigation was opened two years ago.

The EU’s anti-fraud office also is investigating Goulard, who served in the European Parliament during 2009-2017, over the allegations of misused funds.

Incoming European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen nominated Goulard, a close ally of French president Emmanuel Macron, to be the EU commissioner in charge of the bloc’s internal market. The commission is the EU’s executive branch.

Goulard has been accused of using EU funds to pay a legislative assistant who actually worked for her former party. She told lawmakers the issue was related to overpayments she made after the employee stopped working for her.

“I’m very serene and confident as I have not been given preliminary charges,” Goulard said, stressing that the committee in charge of vetting nominated commissioners’ financial declarations did not prevent Wednesday’s hearing from taking place.

She reminded lawmakers of the legal right to be presumed innocent and said her consulting work for the Berggruen Institute think-tank was not illegal. Goulard was reportedly paid some 10,000 euros per month for her work with the Berggruen Institute during 2013-2015.

“I’m well aware the amounts are high,” Goulard said.

If approved for the post, Goulard would take office with the rest of the new European Commission in November but could also be summoned for another hearing if she fails to convince lawmakers. A negative appreciation could lead to her removal from the race. Ultimately, the full commission needs to be approved in a vote at the European Parliament.

Sam Petrequin, The Associated Press