How EU capitals reacted to the new Commission chief’s election

The Capitals brings you the latest news from across Europe. [EPA/PATRICK SEEGER]

The European Parliament confirmed on 16 July conservative candidate Ursula von der Leyen by a narrow majority of just nine votes as the new European Commission president.

>>Read more: Von der Leyen confirmed as new Commission president by paper-thin majority

Centre-right parties especially hailed the news in most EU capitals, while mainly socialists, greens and leftists expressed severe reservations.

Poland is claiming a lot of the credit for getting von der Leyen (VDL) elected, while Hungarian politicians said her first task should be the protection of EU borders.

In Berlin, both CDU boss Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed their satisfaction. Kramp-Karrenbauer, who was announced as VDL’s successor as defence chief, highlighted how her predecessor is the Commission’s first female chief and the first German to head the bloc in over five decades. Merkel said VDL is a “committed and convincing European”.

Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, one of the SPD’s interim leaders, congratulated VDL in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF only minutes after the vote, while Katarina Barley, one of Germany’s SPD MEP who voted against her, adopted a reconciliatory tone saying she will back her if she stands in for a “peaceful, free, sustainable, social and fair Europe”.

The German greens leaders strongly criticised the way she got the job and leftist Die Linke chief Bernd Riexinger commented that the European Parliament “didn’t do itself a favour” by approving someone who wasn’t nominated in a democratic way.

In Vienna, former (and maybe soon-to-be) chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, tweeted, “We need strong leadership for [an] EU that delivers on our citizens’ concerns such as climate change, the migration challenge, competitiveness and more subsidiarity.” (Doris Pundy,EURACTIV.de)

A minority of French MEPs voted VDL. French members of the liberal Renew Europe and the EPP groups (29 out of 74 elected, meaning less than 40% of the total) were the only ones who welcomed VDL’s election. The greens, socialists, leftists and the far-right voted against her for various reasons, including environmental concerns in the case of the greens. On the other hand, the new president got strong support from the new macronist team in the Parliament.

France has not chosen yet its Commissioner, but is expected to do so in the near future, according to a source. EURACTIV France also reports that the departure of the Secretary General of the Commission, Martin Selmayr, which was requested by France and several countries at the EU Council when the VDL option came up, could pave the way for a Frenchman to take the position. (EURACTIV.fr)

In The Hague, Dutch Commissioner Frans Timmermans was quick to congratulate VDL for her narrow win in the Parliament. The erstwhile Spitzenkandidat tweeted that the new Commission president had “won a democratic mandate […] to deliver the green and social programme you delivered this morning”. Rumours in Strasbourg suggested that the Dutchman had assisted in drafting VDL’s letter to the head of the S&D group, Iratxe Garcia Perez, which helped convince a significant amount of the progressive force to back her candidacy. Timmermans also said he is “looking forward to working with you”, given that he will be appointed ‘executive vice-president’ in the new team.

At time of publishing, Prime Minister Mark Rutte had made no announcement. However, the Dutch Permanent Representation to the EU said that “we welcome the confirmation” of VDL, listing migration and climate change among the key areas of focus for the next Commission. (Sam Morgan, EURACTIV.com)

In Madrid, Spanish socialist sources in the Parliament said on Monday the group was satisfied with VDL’s election because it has “a socialist stamp” on it.

Acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez recalled that the support of the socialist group is not a blank cheque for the German candidate, while the S&D Group, including Spain’s PSOE, says it managed to get VDL’s commitment on a number of social issues. (EuroEFE.EURACTIV.es)

In Rome, Salvini’s Lega party made a last minute decision not to back VDL’s bid together with the its fellow far-right force, Fratelli d’Italia (ECR). The co-ruling Five Star Movement party voted in favour of her, as well as opposition parties Democratic Party (S&D) and Forza Italia (EPP).

But a deal between the coalition partners suggests that the party with the most votes will have the right to appoint Italy’s Commissioner. This means that Lega, which opposed VDL, will be the one to propose a candidate who will be a member her team. (Gerardo Fortuna, EURACTIV.com)

In Sofia, there was no official reaction, not even on Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s much-followed Facebook account. What became clear is that the MEPs from the opposition Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) voted against VDL [More] (Georgi Gotev, EURACTIV.com)

In Vilnius, politicians hailed the news. VDL is known in Lithuania for her support for increasing the defence capabilities of the Baltic country and in 2017, she was awarded Lithuania’s Order of Merit. (Angele Kedaitiene)

VISEGRAD

In Warsaw, PM Mateusz Morawiecki said Poland had from the very beginning pushed for a “compromising candidate who will give hope for unity and will try to build bridges”. According to him, his conservative ruling PiS party actually saved VDL as it “tipped the balance in her favour”. Similarly, Polish MEP Ryszard Legutko commented, “[She] was selected thanks to PiS votes, because the Polish delegation decided to give her a chance”. (Łukasz Gadzała, EURACTIV.pl)

In Bratislava, socialist MEP Robert Hajšel, although he voted for VDL, posted on Facebook that it would have been better for the European democracy if the new president was one of the Spitzenkandidats. He said her election would prevent an inter-institutional crisis and hailed VDL’s commitment to greater gender and geographical balance. For MEP Michal Šimečka (Progressive Slovakia, RE), VDL’s biggest challenge will be staying politically independent from the interests of Germany and France, but also from the pressure of EU leaders, who nominated her in the first place. (Zuzana Gabrižová, EURACTIV.sk) 

In Prague, Czech PM Andrej Babiš (ANO) hailed the fact that the Commission will be chaired for the first time by a woman. The ANO MEPs, who belong to the centrist Renew Europe group, as well as three Czech parties in the EPP, supported VDL. But EU lawmakers from the biggest opposition parties, Civic Democrats (ECR) and Pirates (Greens/EFA), voted against her. (Ondřej Plevák, EURACTIV.cz)

In Budapest, the pro-government press reported that thanks to the votes of Orban’s Fidesz party VDL was ultimately elected. Hungarian MEP Tamás Deutsch even suggested that the “only correct path” for her is “to do everything to protect the EU external borders.”

BALKAN REACTIONS

In Bucharest, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis was satisfied with VDL’s election, while the chief of PNL (an EPP member party) saw it as a victory for his party, because it will allow them to support Romania’s interests through a partnership with the Commission president.

Victor Ponta, a former PM of Romania and founder of Pro Romania, said her election was ”good news for Europe” but insisted that the crucial decision for Romania would be the selection of the next Commissioner and their portfolio.

”Now is the time to renew Europe. Citizens have clearly supported our ambition for a strong and united Europe. We have a message for [VDL]: Let’s do this together!,” said Renew Europe leader Dacian Ciolos. (EURACTIV.ro)

In Zagreb, centre-right MEP Dubravka Šuica (HDZ, EPP) said, “In a democracy, one vote more is enough, and the president-elect has nine.” Šuica said she expects VDL to be “a friend of Croatia”, especially when it comes to Schengen and the eurozone.

“Choosing a German candidate for the Commission presidency is a clear sign that Germany wants supremacy in Europe,” said MEP Mislav Kolakušić (N/A). It is still not clear how the Croatian “progressive” MEPs ultimately voted, but Tonino Picula (SDP, S&D) said in an interview that this time he found VDL more convincing. (Tea Trubić, EURACTIV.hr)

In Belgrade, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic expressed his hope that VDL would support Serbia’s efforts to join the EU. He said Belgrade has already demonstrated its pro-EU will by seeking a compromising solution on the Kosovo issue and by “realistically and courageously approaching EU-mediated dialogue with Pristina”. (beta.rs, EURACTIV.rs)

 

In other news from EURACTIV’s network…

BRUSSELS

One down, others still to go. Belgian parties finally wrapped up negotiations on a Brussels coalition agreement in the early hours of the morning. Talks concluded with Groen, Open VLD and the Socialist list one.brussels-SP.A on the Dutch-speaking side of the Brussels government, as well as the PS, Ecolo and DéFI on the French-speaking side. The six parties will officially present it this afternoon as a few final tweaks may have to be made, but the new regional government could be in place as of Belgium’s national holiday on 21 July. Other regions, as well as the federal level, have yet to broker a deal. (Alexandra Brzozowski, EURACTIV.com)

PARIS 

Lobstergate. Minister of Ecological Transition François de Rugy resigned on Tuesday after revelations about sumptuous dinners, surprising expenses in his previous position as head of the National Assembly and questionable tax practices. Elisabeth Borne, previously the transport minister, will replace him.

SOFIA

Massive personal data breach. Using a Russian email address, hackers provided local journalists (Dnevnik.bg among them) with over a million lines of information on citizens and companies. The ministers of interior and finance confirmed on Tuesday that the leak of confidential, but not secret, data is coming from the National Revenue Agency’s (NRA) servers. Minister of Finances Vladislav Goranov apologised after the opposition called for his resignation. A probe was launched to see who is behind the data breach that covers the period between 2007 and June 2019. “Your government is retarded. Your Cybersecurity state is parody”, reads the message to the media. (Dnevnik.bg)

VILNIUS

First EC candidates. According to news site Delfi, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has named three his ministers, finance minister Sapoka, economic minister Sinkevicius, and energy minister Vaiciunas as the potential candidates to be Commissioner.

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[Edited by Sarantis Michalopoulos, Sam Morgan]

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