A Bulgarian member of the European Court of Auditors, Iliana Ivanova, is to become the EU’s new commissioner for research and innovation, the European Commission announced on Wednesday evening.

The announcement comes after a few weeks of speculation over who will replace outgoing commissioner Mariya Gabriel, who resigned her post in May to form a new government coalition in her home country of Bulgaria.

The newly formed Bulgarian government coalition had put forward two candidates for the job, but Commission President Ursula von der Leyen picked Ivanova over Daniel Lorer, a former tech investor who had a nine-month stint as minister for innovation and growth last year in Bulgaria.  

Von der Leyen wanted to keep intact the existing gender balance in the college of commissioners. The political rumour mill in Brussels and in Sofia was already placing bets on other women candidates, including Bulgarian MEP Eva Maydell.

Von der Leyen said both Ivanova and Lorer have relevant experience for the post and “showed great commitment to the European Union and the job of Commissioner.”

Ivanova has been a member of the European Court of Auditors since 2013. In 2009 she was elected to the European Parliament where she was vice chair of the budgetary control committee.

“Her experience is crucial in carrying forward the implementation of the EU’s flagship research programme, Horizon Europe, to enhance the performance of EU’s research spending and achieve a better impact on the ground,” said Von der Leyen in a statement late Wednesday.

Ivanova will now have to seek the formal approval of the European Parliament and go through a grilling in the ITRE industry and research committee.

If MEPs approve of her joining the College of Commissioners, Ivanova will soon have to deal with the ex-post evaluation of Horizon 2020 and the midterm evaluation of Horizon Europe. Ivanova will also briefly help steer the start of negotiations for the next EU Framework Programme for research and innovation.

Her mandate will end next year, after the EU elections scheduled between 6 and 9 June.

Shuffling top jobs

After Gabriel’s resignation, commission vice-president Margrethe Vestager had temporarily taken over the innovation and research part of Gabriel’s portfolio, while vice president Margaritis Schinas was looking after education, culture and youth.

The news that Vestager took over the innovation and research portfolio following Gabriel has been met with mixed feelings in the research community, as she showed more interest in competition policy and certain aspects of deep tech innovation, and less so in EU research funding.

In addition, the research community feared Bulgaria will not be able to end political turmoil and appoint a commissioner ahead of the upcoming EU elections. These fears grew further last week when Vestager announced that she is seeking to leave her post at the commission for the top job at the European Investment Bank at the end of the year.

Gabriel is now serving as deputy prime minister under Nikolay Denkov, a chemist and member of the country’s Academy of Sciences. She is due to put on the prime minister hat after nine months, according to a power rotation agreement within the new coalition.