Von Der Leyen Off To Bad Start As New EU Commission Faces Delay Over French Nominee Defeat

Von der Leyen Off to Bad Start as New EU Commission Faces Delay Over French Nominee Defeat

European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen is having a hard time after the EU legislature rejected three nominees for commissioners, meaning that the new EU executive body will likely move the start of its work by a month, to December

BRUSSELS (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 16th October, 2019) European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen is having a hard time after the EU legislature rejected three nominees for commissioners, meaning that the new EU executive body will likely move the start of its work by a month, to December.

Earlier, committees of the European Parliament failed to endorse picks for commissioners from Hungary, Romania and France. These countries now need additional time to put forward new candidacies. The scandal around a French nominee for the commissioner for the EU's internal market, industrial policy and defense has drawn the greatest attention.

On October 10, the candidacy of Sylvie Goulard, personally nominated by President Emmanuel Macron, was voted down by the EU parliament's internal market and industry committees in a crushing 82-29 vote. It came after the commissioner-designate failed to convincingly respond to financial misconduct allegations.

The defeat of the nominee has prompted the French minister for European affairs, Amelie de Montchalin, to describe it as an EU "major institutional crisis." Brexit, therefore, has suddenly stopped looking like the only crisis looming the bloc on November 1, the date when the new commission was initially scheduled to start its work.

Once Goulard's nomination was rejected, Macron publicly demanded explanation, claiming that von der Leyen herself had pushed forward her candidacy. He also alleged that the leaders of European Parliament groups had betrayed von der Leyen and broken a promise to support Goulard.

"I need to understand what played out. Resentment? Pettiness? What is important to me is the clarity of the portfolio. And I like that when people give their words, they honor that," he wondered, as quoted by the Politico media outlet.

At a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel later that same week, he struck a more conciliatory tone, saying that the EU could not allow itself the "luxury of vengeance and small disputes."

While reflecting on the defeat of its candidate, the French leadership, however, has failed to mention that Goulard, who has been sitting in the EU legislature for years, resigned as minister of the armed forces in June 2017, a month after her appointment, over allegations of misuse of payments for her assistants in the European Parliament. In addition, she is suspected of being involved in a conflict of interests with a US think tank.

Von der Leyen, in turn, neither confirmed nor denied Macron's account that Goulard had been her choice. She confined herself to noting that "it is time to speed up the process of appointing the remaining members of the Commission."

"We must not lose sight of what is at stake: The next five years will be decisive for Europe in a difficult global environment. Europe must deal with Brexit, trade issues and conflicts in its immediate neighborhood. We must also face up to major challenges such as climate change, digitization and migratory flows. With so much at stake, it is now necessary, together with Parliament, to speed up the process so that Europe can act swiftly," she said.


The "total cock-up" of Goulard's candidacy was likely the result of several factors at play, a European Parliament member from Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) told Sputnik on condition of anonymity.

First, the countries of Central Europe took a "revenge on Macron's arrogance towards them." Secondly, the CDU politician went on, it was a tit for tat to France's refusal to support Manfred Weber, who was ultimately replaced by ex-German defense minister, von der Leyen, as candidate for the top EU post.

"And third but most important, there is the incredibly bad choice of candidates by Macron. Does this man have any knowledge of human relations? His candidate was bad, even very bad and was chosen for the top job in the Commission: the internal market ... How can Macron be surprised? It is his second very bad choice, after Nathalie Loiseau, to head his political group in the European parliament," the lawmaker added.

There indeed have been alarm signals that the parliament might refuse to endorse Goulard, including her rocky first hearing in the legislature on October 2.

The problem is that Goulard - a former Liberal who now represents Macron's party - is under investigation by the European authorities for using her parliamentary assistants in Brussels and Strasbourg for her French political work.

Apart from this, EU lawmaker Goulard also used to work as a special adviser for a think tank of German-US billionaire Nicolas Berggruen for over 12,000 euros ($13,300) a month for her arguably little work (two short reports and one meeting).

Berggruen is, meanwhile, close to George Soros and also rumored to be a good friend of von der Leyen herself. The latter reportedly helped the businessman to buy bankrupt department store chain Karstadt in 2010, when she served as labor minister, for a symbolic 1 euro. Berggruen then sold the real estate part of the group for 400 million euros.

All this made it impossible for lawmakers to accept her candidacy for the key job in the commission in charge of internal market.


European Parliament member Virginie Joron, who attended the hearings on behalf of France's right-wing National Rally, told Sputnik that Goulard had been "rejected for suspicion of corruption, nothing less."

"From the beginning, Ms. Goulard's candidacy had sparked heated debate. She had to leave her ephemeral position as minister of the armies. She was then comfortably put in a well-paid position at the Bank of France by her friend Macron. At the European Commission where she is supposed to be a high-flying expert on the internal market, she even had to pitifully confess not knowing anything about the Dieselgate scandal in Germany," Joron argued.

She also suggested that Goulard's work for the "controversial" think tank Berggruen Institute between late 2013 and late 2016 during tenure as a European Parliament member, was a conflict of interest.

"Myself and Thierry Mariani [RN lawmaker also present at the hearing], we were worried about her possible subjugation to American interests, but Ms. Goulard has been unable to provide convincing explanations. The rejection of her candidacy, is a first for France. This is a new humiliation for Emmanuel Macron. Because of him," she concluded.


For the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), the rejection of Goulard goes further, clearly questioning the capability of von der Leyen to lead the European Commission in these troubled times.

Joerg Meuthen, an AfD co-president and a European Parliament member, told Sputnik that this scandal "strengthens our conviction that Mrs von der Leyen is totally unfit as President of the Commission."

"From day one, to be selected, she promised everything to everybody. Her lack of principles is evident. She performed acrobatics in promising a climate bank, CO2 import tax, gender equality, she does not close the borders to illegals and of course she promises even more EU, so less Europe. She promises the left and nominal liberals more stringent action against Poland and Hungary, and the conservatives and reformers the exact opposite," he argued.

He also suggested that the problem with forming the new commission stemmed from the close-door dealings that had stood behind the appointment of nominees for the leadership of EU main bodies.

"She [von der Leyen] was elected by a very narrow majority of 383 versus 327, and now the new Commission will not even be able to start its work on November 1, as expected, because of the little arrangements between Merkel and Macron. This is pathetic," Meuthen said.

Other opposition parties in Germany, including the Free Democratic Party, have joined the criticism, saying that von der Leyen, an ex-defense minister, herself is yet to answer to the investigative committee of the Bundestag about contracts her ministry awarded to outside consultants.