Friday, 13 December 2019

EU nominee von der Leyen faces sceptical parliament

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen (pictured) will replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission if she secures a majority in the Strasbourg assembly

STRASBOURG: Was an intense two-week political operation to woo European lawmakers long enough to win German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen the top job in Brussels?

The 60-year-old conservative will replace Jean-Claude Juncker as president of the European Commission if she secures a majority in the Strasbourg assembly.

If she fails – and Tuesday’s secret ballot could be close – then Europe faces a summer of institutional infighting between parliament and the 28 EU leaders.

And if her victory is secured only thanks to eurosceptic members, her position will be weakened even before she takes over as the commission’s first female leader in November.

She has had barely two weeks to make her case since the leaders declared her the nominee after a tense three-day summit, casting aside candidates backed by parliament.

But von der Leyen has responded with a series of written promises to the main centre-right, socialist and liberal blocs that she hopes will get her the necessary 374 votes.

And she announced Monday that she would step down from Angela Merkel’s German government this week whatever happens in the vote, underlining her European ambitions.

The three main mainstream groups are expected to back her, but the Greens and the far-left will not, and the vote is a secret ballot that could contain surprises.

“It will be a small ‘yes’,” one well-placed European source predicted. “She’ll be elected with fewer votes than Juncker was five years ago.”

The former Luxembourg premier received 422 endorsements, and anything less than 400 would be seen as disappointing for the German veteran minister and mother-of-seven.

The vote is scheduled to begin in the Strasbourg assembly at 6:00pm (1600 GMT) and the result announced around one-and-a-half to two hours later.

It will be keenly followed in the Brussels EU institutions and in the 28 European capitals.

The new head of the European Commission is due to take power on November 1, immediately after the latest deadline for Britain’s departure from the bloc.

He or she will have to manage the Brexit aftermath, Italy shirking its debt targets and efforts by Poland and Hungary to flout the EU-mandated rules of liberal democracy.

For that, the commission president will need a reliable majority in Strasbourg, but May’s elections threw up a more fragmented EU parliament than ever.

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