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European Parliament Green-Lights Varhelyi As EU Enlargement Commissioner

European Neighbourhood and Enlargement Commissioner-designate Oliver Varhelyi of Hungary speaks during his hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels on November 14.

BRUSSELS -- The European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee has given Hungary's Oliver Varhelyi the green light to become the next EU enlargement and neighborhood commissioner.

The decision was made after members of the committee were sufficiently satisfied with his responses to five written questions they had sent him late last week after he failed to get enough votes following a hearing in the European Parliament on November 14.

The main issue concerned his relationship with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after having served as Hungary's EU ambassador since 2015, especially in relation to Orban's close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In his written response, seen by RFE/RL,Varhelyi pledged, "I will neither be bound nor influenced by any statement or position of any prime minister of any country or any other representatives of any government."

Some committee members also voiced concern about a speech delivered by Orban in Baku last month where he appeared to pledge Varhelyi's assistance to both Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Varhelyi replied that "the EU is a key trade partner of Azerbaijan, provides support to economic diversification, and promotes reforms to improve the business climate. We also have a mutual interest in energy cooperation."

He added, "However, I will not shy away from clearly addressing the human rights situation in Azerbaijan and raise relevant issues, e.g. political prisoners and freedom of assembly and speech, both publicly and directly with the Azerbaijani authorities at the highest levels."

The European Parliament will vote on the new European Commission as a whole on November 27 even though it remains unclear whether the EU executive body will actually start work on December 1, as planned, since Britain, embroiled in the Brexit dispute with the bloc, still hasn't nominated a commissioner.

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