The new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has chosen Paris for her first official visit. It was a way to thank French President Emmanuel Macron, who nominated her, and to show that they have a strong alliance. EURACTIV France reports.
The working lunch organised on Tuesday (23 July) at the Elysée between Macron and von der Leyen will have fulfilled its purpose. After lunch, both presidents confirmed that France and Brussels are on the same page when it comes to ‘regenerating’ Europe.
Jean-Claude Juncker’s successor, who was confirmed in office just a few days ago by a paper-thin majority in the European Parliament, did not hide this. She came to thank the French president for his support during a short speech on the steps of the Elysée.
— Élysée (@Elysee) July 23, 2019
“My first trip is here, then I will go to Poland and Croatia,” said von der Leyen.
“I would like to thank you for this warm welcome and for your support over the past few days and weeks,” she said in her short speech to French journalists gathered in front of the Elysée.
Germany’s former defence minister was a surprise candidate for the European Commission presidency. Faced with institutional deadlock, Emmanuel Macron proposed the German compromise candidate to European leaders and this resolved the impasse.
The French government intends to build on the support it has given the Commission’s new president. Not only does the government want to move Europe’s reform project forward, but also intends to have a European Commissioner who will have an ambitious portfolio.
The French government is eyeing the climate or economic portfolio, according to several sources. France’s next Commissioner to join von der Leyen’s team was also discussed during the working lunch between the two executives.
A joint programme
“We both agree that we are working for an ambitious Europe,” said Ursula von der Leyen. “This Europe must affirm its position in the world […] I know that you are on my side and we will now be working together,” she continued.
Macron also expressed his satisfaction and noted the issues that Europe needs to address.
These include climate, social, and border protection, as well as European defence. “On all the issues you raised during your speech, France is fully united”, the French president added.
Although he did not mention it, another issue that appears to satisfy Macron is the respect for gender parity in senior European positions. Two of the EU’s top jobs went to women: President of the European Commission to von der Leyen and president of the European Central Bank to Christine Lagarde.
“You embody this new Europe. Forty years after the first woman was elected president of the European Parliament, we now have the first woman to preside over the European Commission. It shows that Europe that wants to ‘regenerate’ itself,” the French president said.
Gender parity will also be one of the new rules that von der Leyen intends to impose on the future college of Commissioners.
However, for the moment, the count is not there. So far, only five female candidates have been put forward to take on Commissioner positions, while significantly more men are in the race.
This is still more than in 2014 when EU member states proposed 26 out of 27 male candidates to former EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.