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29th Jan 2020

EU leaders to warn von der Leyen over 'giving in' to MEPs

  • Ursula von der Leyen (centre) met with parliamentary parties before MEPs confirmed her position by just nine votes this summer (Photo: European Parliament)

EU leaders are expected to tell European commission president-elect Ursula von der Leyen to "rebalance" her priorities in line with that of member states - and not "give in" to the European parliament, several EU diplomats said on Wednesday (16 October).

Von der Leyen will meet all EU leaders for the first time since her nomination at the EU summit on Thursday (17 October).

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The launch of her commission has been delayed by a month, until 1 December, after three commissioners failed to get the European parliament's approval at their hearings this month.

EU diplomats agreed the message will be relayed to her cordially. Nevertheless, it serves as a reminder to the new commission chief that she was nominated by the EU leaders, not by parliament.

"There may be a message to her that what happened in the European parliament from July on, especially during the [commissioner-designate] hearings, [that] giving in to the parliament doesn't help the institutional relations," one senior diplomat said, referring to von der Leyen's efforts during the summer to secure a parliamentary majority for her own nomination vote.

"What she was doing in parliament, pleasing them, is very important for a successful end of the [confirmation] process, but there is also the council part. [We want to] make sure she understands the inter-institutional balance," the diplomat added.

"Compromise in the parliament is important, but it is also important for her to have consensus with the council [of member states]," the diplomat said.

"Leaders will send signals on what are the priorities of the member states, to rebalance a bit the input she received from the parliament," another senior diplomat confirmed.

Some diplomats have said leaders are looking to more strongly link their so-called "strategy agenda" adopted in June, and the priorities of the new commission - with one official pointing to more emphasis on industrial strategies as an example of this.

Growing pains

Leaders want to have a discussion on "how to proceed", and other diplomats stressed they first what to hear von der Leyen's assessment.

"Things have clearly started on a footing which is not constructive, they would like to hear from her, how she perceives this situation," a third diplomat said.

"It is clear that there are growing pains when it comes to needing a coalition of three political groupings, which is clearly not familiar to the European Parliament," the diplomat added.

The former German defence minister was picked by the EU leaders in early July to run the new commission after they dismissedthe lead candidates of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) - also the party of von der Leyen - and the Socialists.

Political leaders in the parliament, which pushed the lead candidate concept, where the winning group of the European elections should be given the commission presidency post, were upset by the EU leaders' move.

In July, von der Leyen secured the support of the parliament by just nine votes after a speech that reached out to the centre-left, liberals and Greens.

The 60-year-old new commission chief, who was born in Brussels but has little experience in the fierce institutional battles in the EU capital, is stuck between a rock and a hard place.

While she needs the support of the parliament to approve her new commission, and legislation further down the line, she was nominated by EU leaders for the job.

Nevertheless, her exchange with EU leaders is not expected to be "a grilling" or a "hot debate" - although last week French president Emmanuel Macron lashed out at von der Leyen after the parliament rejected the French commissioner candidate, Sylvie Goulard.

"I believe president Macron calmed down a bit," quipped one diplomat.

Von der Leyen is also expected to set out to EU leaders how she sees the confirmation process, timetable, the composition of her team, as commissioner candidates from Hungary, and Romania had also been rejected earlier.

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