Von der Leyen woos Socialists, Greens, upsets her own EPP

A Brexit extension will mean that the UK will have to nominate a member of the new EU executive, incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has confirmed. [@Europarl_EN Twitter]

The speech Commission President-designate Ursula von der Leyen delivered to MEPs on Tuesday (16 July) before their vote to confirm or reject her nomination was hailed as a major step forward both by Socialists and the Greens, but it also raised eyebrows in the EPP ranks.

The centre-right European People’s Party group was already upset by the letters von der Leyen, until now Germany’s defence minister, sent to the socialist and liberal groups in exchange for their support for her candidacy.

Von der Leyen spells out concessions to Parliament ahead of crunch vote

Putting carbon neutrality into law during first 100 days, a new “Just Transition Fund” or the nomination of two executive vice-presidents are some of the concessions listed by European Commission President nominee Ursula von der Leyen, according to the letters seen by Euractiv.

In her speech to MEPs in Strasbourg, she further developed ideas on climate change, a minimum wage in every country, transnational lists and the European Parliament’s right to initiate legislation, which pleased the Green, liberal and socialist groups.

However, this was felt like betrayal in the EPP ranks, as she reportedly did not consult them about her proposals, but took their votes for granted.

Bulgarian EPP MEP Radan Kanev told EURACTIV that the EPP leadership was particularly exorcised by her openings to introducing transnational lists, an issue on the top of the agenda for the liberals, but to which the centre-right group is opposed.

The Greens’ co-leader Philippe Lamberts called Von der Leyen’s speech “a big step forward” compared to her previous appearance in the European Parliament, which had antagonized his group against her.

“We wanted to count on you, but your performance last week did not convince us,” said Lamberts.

Of particular concern to the Greens is von der Leyen’s planned two-step approach in reducing CO2 emissions “by 2030 by 50, if not 55%.”

“In raising efforts to curb emissions in two different stages, we see the idea of conditionality emerge once again,” said Lamberts.

After the speech, EURACTIV spoke to Greens’ co-president Ska Keller, who said Von der Leyen’s effort was appreciated, but her offer was weak on content, and the group would still oppose her election. She admitted that individual green MEPs could vote for her.

With almost full liberal support, a few Green votes and “conditional support” from the majority of S&D, von der Leyen is likely to be elected, assuming that most of the EPP MEPs will support her.

The Polish MEPs from the EPP are now more eager to vote for the German nominee, since the ECR, the political force in which Poland’s ruling PiS party sits, cut ties with her following her speech.

Far-right against von der Leyen

European conservatives are suspicious of von der Leyen’s planned Rule of Law mechanism.

In her opening statement, she presented a new EU-wide Rule of Law mechanism, pointing out that this new instrument would not be an alternative to existing instruments, but an additional one.

“Lady Justice is blind and she will defend the rule of law wherever it is attacked,” von der Leyen said.

The response of ECR group’s co-president Raffaele Fitto was brief and to the point: “If she wants to keep Timmermans’ method, we are against,” he said, referring to Frans Timmermans’s engagement on the rule of law in the previous Commission.

Von der Leyen turned her back on the far-right on Saturday when she cancelled a scheduled meeting with Marco Zanni, leader of the far-right Identity and Democracy group (ID), in an attempt to reassure other groups about the ‘colour’ of her majority in the European Parliament.

She doubled down on that stance on Tuesday, telling Jörg Meuthen, an MEP from the Eurosceptic Alternative for Germany (AfD), and a member of the ID group, that she was relieved that his group won’t vote for her.

“Your speech surprises us,” said Zanni, adding it was full of promises that von der Leyen knows she won’t be able to keep.

Zanni’s Lega MEPs had appeared likely to support von der Leyen, but are now certain to oppose her. “Votes from this side of the hemicycle will count,” warned Zanni.

However, Lega is sympathetic to several of von der Leyen’s policy proposals, including the call for more flexibility in the Stability and Growth Pact and the need to reform European migration management and asylum system.

If von der Leyen succeeds in cobbling together a majority, she should thank the Commission’s spin doctors and speechwriters, a high-level source told this website, stressing that the nominee agreed by EU leaders had started from a weak position.

A big highlight of her speech was the commitment to introduce full gender balance in the next EU executive. Some private references, such as about her father, a former Commission Director-General, and about a Syrian boy she hosted in her home during the refugee crisis, were also very well received by MEPs.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic, Benjamin Fox]

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