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15th Apr 2024

Greens eye 'kingmaker' role among MEPs for von der Leyen

  • The Green MEP, Ska Keller, (l) ran for the post as parliament president and secured 119 votes. "There is no majority in this house for the deal [on top-posts]", vice-chair of the Green group, Bas Eickhout (r) said (Photo: European Greens)

Just 24 hours after being the last-minute nomination as the new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen visited the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday (3 July) in order to gather support from the political groups for the post.

Von der Leyen needs an absolute majority of MEPs to back her in a vote in mid-July, to confirm her nomination as commission president. Otherwise the heads of states and government must then present an alternative candidate.

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  • Ursula von der Leyen visited the EPP group in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, the day after Manfred Weber (l) pulled out of the rase on EU top posts (Photo: EUobserver)

It was her own political group, the European People's Party, (EPP) that had invited the German defence minister to come to Strasbourg - but talks with other political party group leaders were also foreseen.

Earlier on Wednesday the parliament had elected Italian socialist, David Sassoli MEP, as its new president with 345 votes -just one more than he needed to get elected.

Not all MEPs took part in the election of Sassoli, but the close result indicated that it could be hard for von der Leyen to get elected as commission president without support from the Greens as 'kingmakers'.

The EPP group and the Liberal Renew Europe group did not put up a candidate of their own for the post as parliament president, and their members are expected to have voted for Sassoli in the secret ballot.

The Green MEP, Ska Keller, also ran for the post as parliament president and secured 119 votes, while the national-conservative Europe of Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) candidate, Jan Zahradil, got the second-most votes, 160, and the far-left candidate, Sira Rego, got 43.

The Greens have held informal talks with the three biggest parties since the European elections in May in order to formulate a political platform for the next five years. But these talks will now have to start afresh, EUobserver was told.

Negotiations were until now held with the expectation of the next EU commission president being one of the so-called Spitzenkandidaten, who are already well-know figures in the parliament.

Unfamiliar face

Von der Leyen is known in German domestic politics, but not in the same way a familiar figure in the European Parliament.

"We came up with our own candidate for the presidency for the parliament to make it very clear that there is no majority in this house for the deal [on top-posts]", Dutch MEP and vice-chair of the Green group, Bas Eickhout, told EUobserver.

"So in two week's time, Ursula von der Leyen will need a better score [than Sassoli] in order to get to that absolute majority and that means they will have to turn to the Greens and we will make very clear that we can not accept the deal as it stands," he added.

Eickhout confirmed that von der Leyen already had made contact with his group and requested a meeting.

"I think it is always good to do that. So the doors are open and lets talk and let's see what comes out of it", he said, while refusing to name any key areas that the Greens would like to focus on as premature.

The Green group president, Keller, said in her first speech to the new parliament on Wednesday that the lead-candidate process should still be supported and that the Greens would work for trans-national lists to be recognised in the next European elections.

Eickhout said the deal on top-posts, only achieved on Tuesday after three days of haggling, was overall "very disappointing" and a "step back".

"I think that the European parliament elections were for the first time really European, there were European themes, there was a higher turnout and you can really see that the lead-candidate process took off", he said.

"The heads of states are now taking a step back and coming up with candidates that are so obviously part of a deal between individual heads of state. This is not the European democracy that we were building so for me it is a step back."

He said a couple of eastern European countries that were not happy with any of the lead candidates because they were critical on rule of law, and thus happy to kill the process.

"Unfortunately the heads of state of Germany, France and Spain let that happen because they got their own positions and that is a very cynical conclusion, that for them democracy could be sacrificed if they got their own top-job".

"That's not the signal you want to get to the voters".

Parliament outmanoeuvred in EU top-post game

The European Parliament on Tuesday lost a years-long power struggle, and gave up winning more influence on European politics via the so-called Spitzenkandidat process it had championed.

EU leaders nominate first female EU commission chief

An ally of Angela Merkel, the female Germany defence minister has been nominated by EU leaders for the commission top job. Ursula von der Leyen still needs to be approved by the EU Parliament, where she will meet some resistance.

Who are the EU's new leaders?

Three out of the four people to lead the EU institutions in Brussels for the next five years were selected Tuesday, but none are well-known outside their own countries. The fourth, the European Parliament president, is to be chosen Wednesday.

German minister presidency plan upsets MEPs

While EU leaders seem to converge around German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen as Commission president, the European Parliament is not happy with the emerging agreement on top jobs.

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