Thursday

5th Aug 2021

French EU nominee loses vote and is out

  • 'How can you be unfit to be minister in France, while at the same time be good enough to be a European commissioner?', one MEP told Sylvie Goulard (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Sylvie Goulard, France's nominee for the European Commission, lost the vote on her candidacy on Thursday (10 October), with 82 MEPs against her, 29 in favour, and one abstention.

The French president, Emmanuel Macron, now has no choice but to name an alternative.

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"We were quite surprised to see that someone as experienced as Sylvie Goulard was not able to take a number of concerns away," Esther de Lange, a Dutch politician from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), said after the vote by two European Parliament committees.

Goulard was not able to dispel questions on "double standards", de Lange said.

"How can you be unfit to be minister in France, while at the same time be good enough to be a European commissioner?", she added.

De Lange referred to an ongoing French investigation into Goulard's alleged misuse of EU funds in her time as an MEP, which saw her step down as French defence minister back in 2017.

The death blow to the French liberal candidate came after the EP had earlier rejected an EPP nominee (from Hungary) and after Macron had, earlier this year, blocked an EPP man from becoming commission president.

A stray EPP tweet, which accidentally showed one of the group's internal messages online, reinforced the idea that her rejection was political revenge.

"Guys, we are going to kill her in the vote later but do not say a ... [sic] until then", the EPP tweet said on Thursday.

The Elysee alluded to the gaffe in a statement, saying Goulard's rejection was due to "political game-playing directed at the entire European Commission".

France wanted to keep her portfolio - a sizeable one containing the single market, defence, and culture - it added.

Goulard herself said that she "took note of the decision" and thanked those MEPs who had voted for her.

The axe fell after MEPs had called in the French candidate for a second hearing in Brussels earlier the same day.

The EU funds investigation aside, Goulard's previous €13,000 per month consultancy job for a US think tank had also raised doubt on her integrity in an initial hearing on Monday.

And for his part, Francois-Xavier Bellamy, a French centre-right MEP, continued to strike at the sore spots the second time around.

He also alleged that "pressures have been put on many of my colleagues in this room from national heads of state and governments to dismiss" the tough questions.

Pernille Weiss, a Danish-centre right MEP, accused Goulard of "double standards", echoing the group line.

Hard questions also flew in from green, far-right, and far-left MEPs on Thursday.

She [Goulard] was "blurry on integrity ... still very evasive and ambiguous", Valérie Joron, a French far-right MEP, said.

Dramatic upset

Goulard's demise marks the biggest upset so far to Ursula von der Leyen, the new European Commission president.

Goulard had insisted on Thursday she had spoken with von der Leyen on the issue of the EU funds probe and they both decided it was OK for her to apply for the commission post.

The commission's legal services had also cleared her application, Goulard added.

And if the French authorities ever brought formal charges against her, then she would consider resigning, she had promised.

The €13,000/month post was not illegal, but may have been in poor taste on "more subjective" grounds, she had also said.

Liberal MEPs and some other deputies had asked softer questions on Goulard's portfolio.

She pledged to fight for social cohesion, in a counterpoint to her lucrative consultancy income.

She also pledged to reduce carbon emissions, protect intellectual property, promote European films, and defend small businesses and women's rights.

The fate of two other candidates - a centre-right diplomat from Hungary and a centre-left MEP from Romania - still hangs in the balance after MEPs rejected the countries' initial candidates over financial conflicts of interest.

The fall of the Romanian centre-left government in a no-confidence vote also on Thursday has made its replacement candidate a lame duck.

Von der Leyen has so far declined to say if she accepted either of the two replacement nominees.

Meanwhile, Goulard's exit calls into question von der Leyen's intention to have a gender-balanced commission, with 13 women.

It risks delaying her plan to have her new team sworn in by 1 November.

And it calls into question the health of the centrist alliance in the EP as well as the Franco-German alliance on the wider European stage.

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