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19th Jan 2020

German minister presidency plan upsets MEPs

  • German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen emerged as a possible compromise candidate in the third day of negotiations among EU leaders (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Germany's defence minister Ursula von der Leyen emerged on Tuesday (2 July) as a possible compromise among EU leaders for the European Commission presidency - after three days of intensive negotiations in Brussels.

The 60-year old conservative politician was put forward by France, with Germany and the eastern European block of 'Visegrad Four' countries in support, and she also has the backing of Italy. If it happens, it would make her the first female president of the EU commission.

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Under this scenario, the presidency of the EU Council would go to the liberals, with Belgian prime minister Charles Michel getting the post.

Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell would be named EU foreign policy chief, who hails from the Socialist party.

The International Monetary Fund's French managing director Christine Lagarde would be the new head of the European Central Bank, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

European Socialist party leader, Bulgarian MEP Sergei Stanishev could become the president of the European Parliament, according to the EU leaders' plan, with Germany's centre-right lead candidate Manfred Weber possibly taking the second half of the five-year term.

This new list of frontrunners emerged after the Visegrad countries, Italy and several leaders aligned with the centre-right. European People's Party (EPP) objected to a package cooked up at the weekend at the G20 summit in Japan that would have seen the Socialist lead candidate, Dutch commissioner Frans Timmermans take the commission presidency.

The discussions among EU leaders were delayed on Tuesday by several hours of consultations among different leaders chaired by EU Council president Donald Tusk.

The 28 leaders gathered together late afternoon to discuss the new package of names.

Unhappy MEPs

The candidate for the presidency of the EU commission needs a majority in the European Parliament, and so the European leaders have for the first time decided to seek consultations with the parliament on the package they plan to agree.

If the three major political groups - EPP, the Socialists & Democrats, and the liberals of Renew Europe - agree with the proposal from the European Council, there will be an overall deal. If not, national leaders will need to go back to the drawing board.

Meanwhile, early reactions from MEPs who were gathered in Strasbourg for the first session of the new parliament criticised the emerging deal.

German Social democrat MEP Bernd Lange‏ tweeted that the current names discussed by leaders are "unacceptable" for the socialists in the EP.

Vice-chair for the Socialist group, Tania Fajon also said in a tweet: "Very clear no, majority is not prepared to support the current deal on EU top jobs".

"Hearing strong messages to the European council that the current package proposal is not acceptable for many heads of delegations," she added, referring to the Socialist member parties.

The Greens' lead candidate Bas Eickhout also dismissed the emerging new deal in a tweet saying "Congratulations Council. Rule of law slaughtered for some positions for Merkel, Macron and Sanchez".

The Dutch politician referred to German, French and Spanish leaders giving up on Timmermans because of objections from the Visegrad Four, whose members, Poland and Hungary have been heavily criticised by the Dutch commissioner over the rule of law.

The different parliamentary groups were now expected to meet in the early evening to discuss whether they can support the German defence minister for the commission presidency.

In a resolution last February, the European parliament had firmly reiterated that the commission presidency should go to one of the 'Spitzenkandidaten', or lead candidates for the European parties - which Von den Leyen is not.

The negotiations between the prime ministers and heads of state are already more complicated than ever before, as they try to juggle political groupings, gender balance, and east-west internal EU positions.

By adding the parliament to the decision-making process the aim was to boost the democratic legitimacy of the process, but an increase in the party political aspect has made any agreement more difficult.

Parliament program

MEPs' vote on the European Parliament president was postponed last week to Wednesday morning (3 July), as the EU heads of state in Brussels were still negotiating in Brussels on how to distribute the top posts in the future European power architecture.

But even without a deal in Brussels over the new EU leadership, the parliament is expected to go ahead with the vote.

Two groups, the Socialists and Renew, had not officially announced a candidate for the post. They have time to do that until 22h00 tonight.

"There is no Socialist candidate to be parliament president as the party is relying on Timmermans" to get a top post," said out-going German Social democrat MEP, Jo Leinen.

Leaders of the four main political groups in parliament, EPP, Socialists, liberals of Renew Europe and the Greens were also meeting in Strasbourg in the afternoon as part of long series of meetings set to formulate a legislative program for the next five years.

That joint program must be finalised before the next parliament session in mid-July - and is aimed at binding the commission president politically.

The Greens does not have a prime minister at the EU summit in Brussels distributing top posts, but their support is important to secure a broad majority in parliament in the next five years.

One Green insider told EUobserver that the party was not happy what it was currently offered in return for supporting the wider deal.

"The legislative program would not be the first of its kind, as Juncker also met with the different political groups in parliament and listened to them, with the Juncker plan being one result of that process," Leinen said.

"But this time there is a shift in the character of the deal, it is meant to become formally a legislative program," he added.

Key states push Timmermans for commission president

The Angela Merkel-inspired 'Osaka plan' to nominate socialist Frans Timmermans as the commission president hit major roadblocks within her own party alliance the EU 'top jobs' summit kicked off in Brussels.

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The Spitzen process - a coup that was never accepted

It is a divisive 'Brussels bubble' debate: whether to give the European Parliament more of a say on who becomes the next European Commission president. But the issue goes right to the heart of European integration.

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.

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