Critics of backroom horse trading say nomination process lacks transparency
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who was nominated on Tuesday as the next European Commission president, is facing some tough opposition from members of the European Parliament who will vote on her confirmation on July 16.
Von der Leyen must win an absolute majority from the 751 MEPs. Otherwise, national leaders of the European Union will need to propose another candidate within a month under the rules.
European Council President Donald Tusk on Thursday tried to calm the critics for the alleged backroom horse trading and the lack of transparency in the nomination process. He told the MEPs that he has met their leaders many times during the process. “I did it not only out of respect for you, but above all, to make sure that the decisions are truly common.”
He also touted the gender balance of two men and two women in the four nominations by the European Council. Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, was nominated to lead the European Central Bank. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel is tipped to replace Tusk and Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell was nominated as the EU’s foreign policy chief.
“This is a very positive change. Europe is not only talking about women, it is choosing women. I hope that this choice will inspire many girls and women to fight for their beliefs and passions. And I also hope that it will inspire the European Parliament in its decisions,” Tusk said.
In its vote, the European Parliament on Wednesday elected David-Maria Sassoli, an Italian politician and a member of the Socialists and Democrats, or S&D, the second biggest political group in the parliament, as its own president.
Some MEPs have criticized the surprise nominations announced by the European Council after its three-day crisis summit in Brussels when hot candidates Manfred Weber, a lead candidate put forward by the European People’s Party, the largest political bloc, and Frans Timmermans, a lead candidate from S&D, were suddenly out of the picture after the horse trading.
Von der Leyen was in Brussels on Thursday meeting Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. She did not speak to reporters but said on social media: “My priorities will be to seek smart advice, listen to all parliamentary groups and together work out the best plan for the future of Europe.”
“Council doesn’t have the right to ignore all of the candidates that have been voted for by European citizens,” said Esteban Gonzalez Pons, Spanish MEP and vice-president of the EPP. Von der Leyen is also a member of the EPP.
The European elections held in late May was the first time in 40 years that the EPP and S&D lost their combined majority in the European Parliament, making future decisionmaking more complicated.
“This is not democracy,” Gonzalez Pons added. “I would urge you to think deeply. The future of Europe can no longer be decided behind closed doors and through secret plots.”
Despite his complaints, he said his EPP group would support Von der Leyen, saying: “We accept our responsibility, because we want to see a person leading the Commission who will be able to defend and fight for EU interests.”
Due to the disagreement among the coalition German government, Germany abstained in nominating Von der Leyen.
A poll by ARD, a joint organization of German public service broadcasters, showed by 56 percent of Germans surveyed said they did not agree with the decision for Von der Leyen to lead the European Commission.