Macron prepares counter-offensive for Brussels

"The college of commissioners must be secured by the broadest vote possible. If we do not take into account the fact that there is no solid majority in the European Parliament, it will be difficult to act during the next five years. This is what needs to be secured," a French government source said. 

French President Emmanuel Macron will only choose the new French candidate for the  European Commission after an EU summit on 17-18 October, where he intends to secure political support from the European Parliament. EURACTIV France reports.

After Sylvie Goulard, Macron’s first choice for the post of Commissioner was rejected by MEPs on 10 October; the French President now intends to put the parliamentary ranks in order. He will attempt to resolve the “political instability” in the European parliament before choosing a new candidate.

According to the EU parliamentarians, rejecting the French candidate was justified because Goulard was unable to clarify some ethical issues.

The fact that France’s former armed forces minister is still facing proceedings over a parliamentary assistants’ scandal did not fly with MEPs. They also had doubts over the failed French candidate having been paid for consultancy work by the Beggruen Institute, a US-based think tank.

Before the hearings even started, the legal affairs committee already disqualified the EPP’s Hungarian conservative candidate, László Trócsányi (EPP), as well as Romanian socialist Rovana Plumb (S&D), citing conflicts of interest to justify their decision.

Why the European Parliament rejected Sylvie Goulard

The parliamentary committees rejected the candidacy of France’s Sylvie Goulard for the Commissioner’s post, officially on ethical grounds. However, her refusal is also a sign that German conservatives are finding it difficult to trust French President Emmanuel Macron. EURACTIV France reports.

The French government did not perceive the MEPs decision as being motivated by ethics, but rather as political punishment. For the government, the Goulard saga is considered to be a sign of “political instability in the European Parliament”, meaning the “risk of a drift” is real.

“Now the president wants to do things in order,” explained Macron’s entourage. For the French government, the priority is clear: it wants to ensure the French candidate obtains the same portfolio as initially intended for Sylvie Goulard.

Such an ambition, however, could risk undermining the European Parliament, which had criticised the portfolio’s scope that intended to combine industry and defence.

Another prerequisite is to ensure that a majority of MEPs vote in favour of the new college of Commissioners, and this before Macron proposes a new name for the post.

“The college of Commissioners must be secured by the broadest vote possible. If we do not take into account the fact that there is no solid majority in the European Parliament, it will be difficult to act for the next five years. This is what needs to be secured,” a government source said.

Attending Renew’s pre-summit

To secure votes at the EU level, Macron has already started holding bilateral talks.

On Sunday (13 October), the French President received German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whom he will meet again in Toulouse on Wednesday (16 October) for a Franco-German Council of Ministers. On October 14, the European Commission President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, visited the Elysée.

The European Council on 17 and 18 October in Brussels will also be an opportunity for the French president to continue discussions with his European counterparts. While Macron traditionally stayed away from pre-summit meetings, this time he will be attending Renew’s meetings between heads of state and government prior to the summit.

To achieve a comfortable majority, Macron hopes to coordinate with the three main political families (Socialists (S&D), the European People’s Party (EPP) and Renew) to form a political majority in Parliament.

According to Macron’s entourage, “it is up to the Greens to say if they want to be part of this majority. With regard to the Green deal, it seems to me that there is a possible common ground”.

Von der Leyen won her bid by a paper-thin majority in the European Parliament last July, with only nine votes more than the required minimum. This is a reflection of her political family, the EPP, losing ground. It also appears to suggest that the times of great coalitions is coming to an end, although these had ensured stable majorities until now.

The Commission’s planned entry into office on 1 November will, therefore, be postponed by a few weeks, probably a month.

“It is not for us to say, but the timetable will likely be postponed by a few weeks. Three countries must nominate new candidates, including Romania, where the government has collapsed,” the French government acknowledged.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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