Former German justice minister will vote against von der Leyen

Former German Justice Minister Katarina Barley will be voting against Von der Leyen when the European Parliament votes on the European Council's proposal during its session in mid-July. [Felipe Trueba/ epa]

Former German Justice Minister Katarina Barley told EURACTIV in Strasbourg that she wants to vote against Ursula von der Leyen, the European Council’s proposed candidate for the European Commission presidency. EURACTIV Germany reports.

“In the S&D Group we are very unhappy because the European Council’s announcement is clearly causing confrontation,” the socialist MEP said on the fringes of the European Parliament’s inaugural session in Strasbourg.

Barley is a candidate to be one of the Parliament’s 14 vice-presidents. At time of publishing, the first round of voting was underway in Strasbourg, following the election of David Sassoli (S&D) as president of the assembly.

The German lawmaker acknowledged that European leaders did not want to continue negotiating after their marathon of meetings but added that it was “a crucial decision and in doing so the European Council is disregarding the will of European citizens”.

Bernd Lange, the deputy chairman of the Social Democrats in the Parliament, is not lending his support for Germany’s defence minister either.

Former Parliament President Martin Schulz tweeted that “Von der Leyen is our weakest minister but that appears to be enough to become head of the Commission”.

Her nomination was proposed following long negotiations in the Council, in which neither EPP top candidate Manfred Weber nor his socialist competitor, Frans Timmermans, managed to win broad support in various variations of the EU’s top jobs package.

With the agreement on von der Leyen, a female Christian Democrat from Germany, the EPP nevertheless ultimately managed to place one of its ranks at the top of the Commission.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) clung onto the Spitzenkandidaten procedure right up until the end. But she eventually conceded on Tuesday evening that the result was a “good overall ‘painting’ for the EU’s top-jobs”.

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) felt so insulted at the compromise that the party, in accordance with German voting rules, revoked Merkel’s right to vote in the Council.

Germany became the only country that could not take part in the vote. Yet, according to Merkel, all other member states voted unanimously for von der Leyen.

With this nomination, the Spitzenkandidaten procedure had been adopted “ad absurdum”, according to the SPD’s provisional chairs, Malu Dreyer, Manuela Schwesig and Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, who criticised the proceedings.

In the coalition agreement between the CDU and SPD, Germany had committed itself to work towards a Europe that is transparent and citizen-oriented.

EU leaders agree on top job picks but trouble already looms

The European Council finally agreed on a pick for the Commission presidency and rallied behind Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday (2 July). But it sets up a potentially ugly encounter with the European Parliament, which might not sanction her appointment.

However, according to Katarina Barley, there are other parliamentary groups in the EU Parliament who had little regard for how the Council overturned the Spitzenkandidaten procedure.

Social Democrat Frans Timmermans did not receive a mandate because, according to Barley, a minority of Eastern European states did not support his strong commitment to the rule of law as this sends a “worrying signal”.

“If Salvini and Orban are the only ones rejoicing publicly, it makes me think twice,” she said.

Barley will be voting against von der Leyen when the Parliament decides on the Council’s proposal during its session in mid-July. Although, a delay in order to try and build a majority has not been totally ruled out.

Germany’s ruling parties were also disappointed by the failure of their top candidate, Manfred Weber.

CSU chairman Marcus Söder told the German Press Agency that he welcomed the Council picking a German candidate for the European Commission presidency.

However, he could not cheer for von der Leyen’s nomination, stating that it was “bitter that democracy had lost and that back-room politics had won”.

German MEP Martin Sonneborn even tweeted that “if the European Parliament votes for this  ‘goofball’, I will resign”. It remains to be seen if that is an earnest pledge or a tongue-in-cheek comment.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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