Monday

10th May 2021

Parliament outmanoeuvred in EU top-post game

  • EPP 'Spitzenkandidat' Manfred Weber bowed out of the running for either Parliament or Commission presidency on Tuesday (Photo: European Parliament)

The European Parliament battled for years to become the centre of power in the European Union, but gave in on Tuesday (2 July) and accepted a political compromise between the national leaders on the distribution of top posts in the EU.

The parliament's battle for more power was over when Manfred Weber, the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) lead candidate in the race for the EU commission presidency withdrew his candidacy late on Tuesday - making way for German minister Ursula von der Leyen to get the post.

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He also pulled out of the race to be elected president of the European Parliament, but said in Strasbourg that he would remain leader of the EPP political group.

The EPP remained the biggest party in the European elections in May and Weber was in pole position to clinch the EU commission top post, but his nomination was met with heavy resistance over the past three days - including from French president Emmanuel Macron.

"The EPP fought for a more democratic Europe and in this regard it is a sad day for us to see how the European Council managed the procedure", Weber said in a press conference on Tuesday night in Strasbourg.

He added that the EPP was a responsible party and thus EPP MEPs had welcomed the outcome of leaders' compromises in the end on how to distribute EU top positions.

"I am a party member, I am an EPP politician and that is why I am also loyal to this package," Weber said.

He pointed out that the EPP would still hold the position as commission president, in the hands of the German CDU's von der Leyen, and reflecting as such the outcome of the European elections.

Weber said the EPP would back any candidate that the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) party may now put forward to become president of the European Parliament.

Late on Tuesday evening in a secret ballot the S&D nominated little-known Italian MEP David Sassoli.

The Renew Europe liberal group also accepted the package agreed among national EU leaders.

"We got the head of the council, Charles Michel, and Vestager will be vice-president of the EU commission. We could not expect more", one MEP explained. The group would not run a candidate to head the European Parliament.

The social democrats appeared frustrated with the outcome of the talks among EU leaders, having hoped for their candidate, Frans Timmermans to become the next commission president.

Instead the group only had Spanish foreign minister Josep Borrell named as EU foreign policy chief, but the post as president of the European Parliament for the coming two and a half year could sweeten the deal.

"If we give up the 'Spitzenkandidat' process now, we will never get it back", Labour MEP Richard Corbett commented.

A previously touted candidate for the post would have been the European Socialist party leader, Bulgarian MEP Sergei Stanishev, who would have completed the power puzzle in another way, by adding an eastern European to the final set-up.

However some social democrats and also members of other parties in the European parliament were concerned with Stanishev's past as a high-ranking communist party official and party member.

The election of the European Parliament president will be held on Wednesday morning (3 July) in a secret (paper) ballot. A candidate must obtain an absolute majority of votes cast (50 percent plus one) to be elected for the next two-and-a-half-year term.

Aside from the social democrat candidate, the Green's Ska Keller, the national-conservative MEP Jan Zahradil and far-left Spanish Sira Rego had confirmed their candidature on Tuesday evening.

EUobserved

Weber's 'black box' dilemma

Under Manfred Weber's leadership, the European People's Party in February forced through a secret ballot trying to derail more transparency at the European Parliament. Now, Weber is wondering why people perceive the EU as a black box.

Opinion

The democratic swindle of the Spitzenkandidat

The Spitzenkandidat system has become an instrument of the promotion of MEPs (often German), and was supposed to make Europe more democratic. Reality has revealed the opposite.

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.

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

Ursula von der Leyen immediately visited the European Parliament on Wednesday in order to gather support for her nomination to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as EU Commission president. The Greens will now be key for her to secure the job.

EU gears up for post-Brexit renovation

Both EU member states and the parliament want to be ready in January with an agreement on how to involve citizens in a serious attempt to rethink the future of the EU. But institutional issues would come first.

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