15th Aug 2020

Kroes causes row over public support for Merkel

  • Europe longs for a woman chancellor, argues EU commissioner Neelie Kroes (Photo: European Commission)

Dutch commissioner Neelie Kroes has sparked controversy by publicly supporting German opposition candidate Angela Merkel as the next German chancellor - causing accusations of interference in national politics.

In her article for the Dutch daily Trouw, published on Thursday (15 September), Neelie Kroes, EU competition commissioner, suggested she had decided to voice her support to the German opposition leader, as she did not want "to miss a chance for discussion on a greater participation of women in politics and business".

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Her comments come just days before the German early elections due on Sunday (18 September).

"Neelie Kroes was expressing her views as a politician and woman, not as a commissioner for competition", Mrs Kroes's spokesman told journalists later on Thursday, adding she had been approached by the paper due to her well-known support to women in high-level professional functions.

The spokesman added that Mrs Kroes's article was not against any European treaty article, nor the commission's own code of conduct.

The code of conduct, adopted at the beginning of the term of the Barroso commission, states that "commissioners may be active members of political parties or trade unions" and that they can participate in an election campaign, and that they should inform the president who can decide if it is compatible with their performance in the commission.

Mrs Kroes's spokesman argued that this case is beyond question, as she is from the Dutch liberal party, while Ms Merkel is at the helm of the German Christian democrats.

However, Bernhard Rapkay, the delegation leader of German Social democrat MEPs in the European parliament, argues that involvement like this is not in line with the EU's rules.

"As a commissioner speaking in public, she should be independent and refrain from commenting on national developments", he commented.

Counterproductive move?

Under the EU treaty, the commission's independence should be "beyond doubt", and its members "shall, in the general interest of the community, be completely independent in the performance of their duties".

According to a Dutch Socialist MEP Edith Mastenbroek, this rule does not preclude a personal statement in support of some politician.

"A Commissioner can say what she wants and express her opinion, if she feels that way. However, if I was in the position of Angela Merkel, I would not be pleased with such a comment", Mrs Mastenbroek told the EUobserver.

She said that "it should be competence, rather than gender that we should be considering at all levels. I think it is a legitimate trial from Mrs Kroes to start a discussion like this, but whether it is wise and helpful for Mrs Merkel - that is another story".

Anna Zaborska, the head of the parliamentary women's rights committee, also commented she herself would have refrained from a gender reference of this kind.

"It is not exactly counter-productive, but the strategy should be different: we should focus on long term policies to get more women into high politics, rather than highlighting our political support to the female candidates - just because they are women", she said.


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