Friday

12th Aug 2022

EU commission has first-ever woman president

  • Ursula von der Leyen becomes the first ever woman president of the European Commission (Photo: European Parliament)

On Tuesday (16 July), the majority of MEPs at the Strasbourg plenary agreed to support Ursula von der Leyen, a long-standing German cabinet minister, for the presidency of the European Commission.

With 383 votes in favour, just over the minimum of 374 required, von der Leyen secured a narrow majority win and will now replace incumbent Jean-Claude Juncker at the start of November.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Another 327 MEPs voted against her, from a total of 733 votes cast, with 22 absentions.

Speaking immediately afterwards, von der Leyen said: "I feel so honoured and I am overwhelmed. The task ahead humbles me".

The bulk of the votes in her favour came from the centre-right EPP, the socialists S&D, the Renew Europe and some stragglers. Among those were the Italian Five Star Movement in government coalition with the far-right League, as well as the populist Polish PiS party members.

Earlier in the day, von der Leyen had issued a wide array of policy promises in a speech ranging from climate change to youth job creation. It is unclear what she can deliver, given the decisions rely on support from the member states and the European Parliament.

But despite her promises for greater gender equality, von der Leyen did not mention abortion or LGBTi rights in her opening speech.

And although she promised to support rule of law, she also made no direct mention of the European Commission's article 7 procedure against Hungary and Poland.

Both countries had supported her nomination for the commission presidency, in a move that has overturned the European Parliament's preferred method of choosing a lead candidate (the 'Spitzenkandidaten' process) on the back of the European elections.

Despite that outcome, many will praise her for being the first ever female to lead the European Commission.

But the tightrope she will need to straddle to appease the member states and the European Parliament may lead to complications further down the line.

Those who voted against her, in a secret ballot on Tuesday, did so for a wide range of reasons.

Among the likely dissenters were the five French socialist MEPs who complained that her proposals, although sounding positive, were too vague and too undefined to be taken seriously.

French socialist and parliament vice-president Sylvie Guillaume had compared von der Leyen's promises to those of Jean-Claude Juncker when he stood in front of the assembly pleading for the same job five years ago.

"Concretely, it remains too vague," she told reporters in Strasbourg before the vote.

Raphael Glucksmann, another socialist French MEP, made similar observations, saying von der Leyen's speech earlier the same day at the European Parliament in Strasbourg was too lofty and too different from her presentation to the group last week.

"[That] was nothing like it was this morning," he noted. The French were not alone to turn against von der Leyen, herself a Christian Democrat, in the socialist camp amid speculation some 44 had voted her down.

Iratxe Garcia Perez, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group leader from Spain, had helped shaped the ambivalent tone during an earlier debate when she told Von der Leyen that more details are needed when it comes to fighting youth unemployment, among other proposals.

As the second largest political group after the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the S&D represents 154 votes. The more Nordic socialists MEPs threw their support behind von der Leyen as did most of the group.

The vast majority of Renew Europe, previously known as the liberal Alde group, is also said to have backed von der Leyen following her speech.

The No Camp

But not everyone was happy. The Renew Europe dissenters are three MEPs from Austria's The New Austria, Germany's Free Voters, and Denmark's former defence minsiter Soeren Gade.

The conservative European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), representing 62 votes, were not impressed either although the Polish faction decided to support her despite a failed bid to get their former prime minister a chair on the employment committee.

The far-right Identity and Democracy group, with 73 voices, opposed as did the far-left GUE group with 41.

The biggest rejection of von der Leyen came from the Greens, the parliament's fourth largest group with 74 MEPs, whose leadership said her appointment process amounted to a backroom deal cobbled together to appease the far-right in central European countries.

"If she becomes president, it will be thanks to the votes of the far-right, rather than those of the strong pro-European majority," said the UK Greens, in a statement ahead of the vote.

Juncker, for comparison, had the support of 422 MEPs, out of the needed 376 votes, during his election to the same post on 15 July 2014.

Similar to von der Leyen, Juncker had made promises that echo some of the proposals she put forward on Tuesday ranging from gender balance to supporting small business owners.

Von der Leyen's final appeal to secure top EU post

European Commission presidential-hopeful Ursula von Der Leyen delivered her key appeal in the European Parliament to secure the post. Her appeal appeared to appease most of the political groups - but a lack of specifics, and opposition from Greens remain.

Poland's ex-PM loses EU parliament chair again

Poland's former prime minister, Beata Szydlo, has cried foul after failing to get an EP committee chair a second time, in a fiasco which could spell trouble for the European Commission presidency vote on Tuesday.

Analysis

Von der Leyen faces gender battle for commission posts

The first-ever female president of the European Commission wants half of her team of commissioners to consist of women. But most of the commissioners put forward by EU member states so far have been male.

The new European Commission: what's next?

Informal interviews with von der Leyen, hearings with parliamentary committees, and votes in the EU parliament and Council await the 26 candidates.

Analysis

What did we learn from the von der Leyen vote?

The vote on von der Leyen showed the fundamental change in EU politics. The rise of the European Parliament, the power of political parties, and the fragmentation of politics, are new realities to be taken into account.

Column

Albania's post-communist dream has lessons for Ukraine

Comparisons between post-communist Albania and current-day Ukraine are fascinating — and make many pertinent parallels. Ukrainians have a similar determination to belong to "the rest of Europe" as Albanians.

Opinion

Finally, the victims of Utøya got a memorial

A legal battle between locals on the one hand and the state and the labour youth organisation on the other side postponed the inception of the memorial in remembrance of the victims of Anders Behring Breivik.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Latest News

  1. Defying Russian bombs, Ukraine football starts 2022 season
  2. Sweden to extradite man wanted by Turkey
  3. EU must beware Beijing's new charm offensive
  4. Forest fire near Bordeaux forces over 10,000 to flee
  5. Estonia and Latvia sever China club ties
  6. Russian coal embargo kicks in, as EU energy bills surge
  7. Only Western unity can stop Iran hostage-diplomacy
  8. Kosovo PM warns of renewed conflict with Serbia

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us