Wednesday 24 July 2019

Lawmakers name their price for backing Von der Leyen for top job

In the running: Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Reuters
In the running: Ursula von der Leyen. Photo: Reuters

Gabriela Baczynska

Germany's Ursula von der Leyen made her pitch to European lawmakers yesterday to be the next head of the EU executive.

She promised to focus on promoting the rule of law, digitalisation, competitiveness and the fight against climate change.

The conservative German defence minister has to win over EU deputies who are annoyed that national leaders opted to nominate her rather than one of the lead candidates from the biggest political groupings in the new parliament after the election last May.

The European Parliament is due to vote on her candidacy next week.

Ms Von der Leyen needs the backing of an absolute majority of 376 votes in the 751-strong chamber to get confirmed as president of the European Commission.

"The EU is based on principles.

"This is the foundation - respect for the rule of law," Ms Von der Leyen told a meeting with lawmakers from the liberal Renew Europe group in her first public policy comments since being nominated last week.

She added that it was also vital to boost the competitiveness of the EU's economy.

Ms Von der Leyen said she wholeheartedly supported the EU going carbon neutral by 2050.

And she said that the bloc should harvest the economic benefits of transitioning to environmentally friendly policies.

She also said the EU needed to advance single market reforms, invest in joint defence capacities and "become more assertive" in its stance vis-a-vis the United States.

Ms Von der Leyen, a 60-year-old former gynaecologist and mother of seven, spoke in favour of enlarging the eurozone and the EU's open-border Schengen area, provided that countries can meet the criteria.

She said the EU should also be ready to take in Western Balkan countries.

On Brexit, she hoped that Britain would still remain in the EU.

But, otherwise, she said that it was essential that the divorce did not poison the chances for good future co-operation between the bloc and London.

Smooth co-operation between the commission, the Parliament and member state governments is essential to EU policy-making on everything from trade to migration to climate, she said.

The lawmakers named their price yesterday for backing Ms Von der Leyen.

Socialist leader Iratxe Garcia Perez said after meeting Ms Von der Leyen yesterday that her grouping had made specific policy demands on fighting climate change, migration, gender equality and making the EU's social model sustainable.

"We want to change Europe... we will take a decision next week about how we will vote," she told reporters.

So far, Ms Von der Leyen can count on the conservative European People's Party (EPP), which has 182 seats in the assembly, and most likely the liberals, who have 108 lawmakers.

But she needs more votes and some could come from the Socialists, which is the second-largest grouping in the parliament.

She could also seek to get support from among the Greens and Eurosceptics in the assembly, who have made different and often contradictory demands as the price of their support.

The risk is that any promises that she makes to win more votes could confuse future EU policies.

Failing to secure enough support would force an embarrassing delay, or could possibly even push EU states to look for another candidate.

The commission has a wide range of functions.

They include proposing laws, policing member states' budgets, acting as the competition watchdog and in negotiating in trade deals around the world.

Irish Independent

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