Von der Leyen charm offensive begins in earnest

Von der Leyen charm offensive begins in earnest

Commission President nominee Ursula von der Leyen continued her charm offensive in Brussels. The German nominee must impress the European Parliament Political Groups to make her way to the 13th floor of the Berlaymont. MEPs posed questions related to Brexit, climate change, rule of law and the institutional structures of the EU during the first Committee week of the new European Parliament. Von der Leyen began most meetings by running on a pro-European stance, which certainly did not suffice with the already pro-European MEPs from S&D, Renew Europe and the Greens.  MEPs complained that von der Leyen lacked specifics.

The Greens felt von der Leyen lacked any plan in the Rule of Law debate or on Climate Change. We saw on Wednesday, Green MEPs blocking Fidesz EPP Members from getting the position of Vice Chair in a number of Committees. After a two-hour hearing, the Greens/EFA announced they were not ready to support her candidacy and they might not be the only group to oppose it. “Ms von der Leyen is simply not a Commission president that the Greens/EFA group can support,” Green co-Chair Philippe Lamberts concluded.

The Socialists were not happy, Iratxe Garcia Perez, S&D President said, “we did not have enough answers so we will write down our demands and will assess her on the basis of the responses we receive.”

The new Renew Europe leader, Dacian Cioloş was more positive towards Ms von der Leyen. This is because Margarethe Vestager has been promised the same position in the Commission as Frans Timmermans, First Vice President of the European Commission, with equal status. That being said, Renew Europe have a few more demands: holding a conference on the future of Europe, allowing trans-national candidate lists in future EU elections and supporting a new rule of law mechanism. Their support is almost certain. On Tuesday, von der Leyen met with ECR co-chairs Raffaele Fitto and Ryszard Legutko. Their support seems highly unlikely.

In a bid to show her commitment to a stronger EU democracy, von der Leyen announced she would concede some legislative initiative – exclusive to the Commission under the treaties – to the Parliament. The German nominee committed to taking any legislative resolution of the Parliament that is backed by an absolute majority to the College of Commissioners and see how it can be translated into political or legislative action.

It now seems likely that the vote for the Commission President which is scheduled for next week will be delayed as the Parliament does not yet have a consensus and Ms. Von der Leyen clearly has quite a bit of homework to do to build a majority in favour of her nomination.