The outgoing Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker fully backs his potential successor – the surprise nominee picked to lead the EU’s executive arm, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen – a Commission spokesperson said and added that the two met today (4 June) as “true Europeans who have known each other for years”. Von der Leyen, the close Merkel ally, said she feels “overwhelmed” and “very honoured” to have been nominated and hopes MEPs will approve her for the role of Commission president.
Donald Tusk, the outgoing chief of the EU Council joined Juncker in the campaign trail in Strasbourg, urging the European Parliament to approve von der Leyen: “For the first time, we achieved perfect gender balance in the top positions. Europe is not only talking about women, it is choosing women.” Still, despite this massive charm offensive, not many lawmakers seem to be bent on voting for the EU Council’s nominee. It was telling that Tusk’s speech was met with resistance from many MEPs blasting the German defence minister’s nomination as undemocratic and serving the political needs mainly of the Western European heads of state.
“The future of Europe can no longer be decided behind closed doors and through secret plots,” said European People’s Party group Vice-Chair González Pons, adding that he “cannot support how things were done and the lack of respect you’ve shown to other institutions.” Stressing that EU leaders can’t “come here and just lay out the Council position and say that we have to vote for it,” the chair of the centre-left Socialists and Democrats, Iratxe García Pérez, also noted that she would have liked to see her group’s lead candidate, Frans Timmermans, nominated as Commission president.
Along with von der Leyen, the European Council, which is made up of all EU28 leaders, also nominated Charles Michel as European Council president, Josep Borrell Fontelles as EU foreign policy chief, and Christine Lagarde to lead the European Central Bank after three straight days of gruelling talks earlier this week. In the meantime, Italian David-Maria Sassoli’s successful election as President of the European Parliament on Wednesday is seen as a win for Socialists. To that end, Tusk was also criticised by González Pons for interfering in who should become the next EU Parliament president, who is elected by MEPs.