Why the European Parliament rejected Sylvie Goulard

89 MEPs from three different parliamentary committees voted against the French candidate, with only 29 voting in favour. [© European Union 2019 - Source : EP]

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.

Goulard, who was proposed to join President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s team and take on the internal market and defence portfolio, was rejected by the European Parliament on Thursday (10 October).

A whopping three hours of hearings, 50 pages of written answers to MEP questions, as well as an additional 90 minutes of explanations to these answers were not enough to convince the three parliamentary committees entrusted with the final vote.

As many as 89 MEPs of three different parliamentary committees, the Committee on Industry, the Single Market and Culture, voted against the French candidate. Only 29 voted in favour, including just 12 MEPs who are not part of Goulard’s Renew group, which is a real snub for France.

This is the first time that the candidate of a large country has been rejected and the first time that a French candidate has been sent back home.

“We consider this to be the European Parliament’s revenge on the European Council. But it’s a waste because she was an excellent candidate,” said Sébastien Maillard, director of the Institut Notre Europe in Paris.

Sylvie Goulard still to convince MEPs in 'do or die' week

After a rough ride last week (2 October), France’s European Commissioner-designate, Sylvie Goulard, has a last chance to convince the European Parliament by answering a new set of questions in writing or by facing the music at the end of this week. EURACTIV France reports.

A European Commission without a majority

With this rejection, MEPs have weakened Ursula von der Leyen’s team.

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, but this slim majority now appears meaningless.

That is because MEPs from her own group, the conservatives of the European People’s Party (EPP), voted against the candidate she proposed.

Conservative MEPs were the ones who criticised the French candidate on ethical grounds, even though they are typically less concerned with such issues.

In the European Parliament, it is said that “all the groups kept the fact that the heads of state, and especially Emmanuel Macron, refused the Spitzenkandidaten system, but it was above all Manfred Weber who wanted revenge”.

The main leaders of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group had concluded an agreement to support Goulard, which according to the results, they did not honour in the end.

Anti-Macron sentiment

EPP leader Manfred Weber, who had bid for and failed to get the Commission President job after the European elections, should have been the one to set up a team of Commissioners. This is something all German MEPs, including the Greens, supported.

The conservatives showed the most animosity, even aggressiveness towards the French candidate, even though on substance, the group was very close to the candidate.

The EPP tweeted, and then deleted, a message that was supposed to be kept internal, which read “Guys, we are going to kill her in the vote later but do not say until then”. The communication blunder demonstrates Goulard’s uphill-battle with the EPP group.

The French government indicated that its candidate had been victim of “a political game that affects the European Commission as a whole”, trying to deny the fact that mistrust comes from all political parties. The Greens, the radical left and the S&D group are just as responsible for this situation and have attacked the French candidate for ethical reasons, and, for the French, political ones too.

The French MEPs of the French Socialist Party (PS) and Les Republicains (LR), as well as the MEPs from la France Insoumise, also took part in Goulard’s rejection, which may also complicate future relations between the Commission and the Parliament.

The question that now remains is who will be the new  French nominee? The portfolio is very large and tailor-made for an experienced candidate.

Other potential candidates, such as Florence Parly or Nathalie Loiseau, will not necessarily be treated better by a Parliament that has also expressed, mainly through German MEPs, a strong distrust of France.

“The reduction in the size of the portfolio has become unavoidable today”, assured MEPs. However, the French government immediately stated that it is out of the question to change the portfolio.

The game is far from over.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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