Ursula von der Leyen should be given a chance even by those who don’t agree with the method by which she landed the post as the first female European Commission president.
Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service
Not even all those who voted for her in Strasbourg on Tuesday are happy that Ursula von der Leyen has steamed out of nowhere to become the first female president of the European Commission.
It is not often that a Luxembourg MEP is cited in the Daily Express, but that honour fell to CSV representative Christophe Hansen on Monday. The paper published a video panel talk in which Hansen was quoted saying that the European Council’s decision to nominate former German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen rather than one of the so-called Spitzenkandidats, most notably von der Leyen’s compatriot Manfred Weber, was a "slap in the face of the European Parliament as well as the European voters". Von der Leyen and Weber both belong to the CDU, the CSV’s sister party in the EPP bloc in Strasbourg. So, Hansen was among the 383 MEPs who eventually gave the president-elect their vote.
On Facebook before Tuesday’s vote, Hansen said he was voting in favour of von der Leyen “with a real stomach ache. The Spitzenkandidats are no longer an option, so what is the alternative? A Plan C to follow Plan B?” He said it would be irresponsible to block the entire EU just because he couldn’t get what he wanted, but he did regret the fact that the Spitzenkandidat principal--that the lead candidate of the biggest bloc in the European Parliament would be voted in as EC president--was not “anchored” in any EU treaty.
Indeed, Article 17.7 of the Lisbon Treaty states that the European Council only has to “take into account the elections to the European Parliament” when nominating its candidate for the EC president.
Like Hansen, those who voted against von der Leyen’s nomination say that her appointment is tantamount to riding roughshod over democracy. But compromise among democratically elected government leaders, followed by approval from democratically elected MEPs seems to nix that argument.
We have been here before, of course. Luxembourg’s own Jacques Santer was a compromise candidate long before the idea of directly electing the president of the European Commission was mooted. That didn’t turn out particularly well when the Santer Commission resigned en masse in March 1999. And let’s not forget that the EPP pushed through its own candidate, José Manuel Barroso, for the top job in 2004.
It is a pity that the first female president of the Commission is someone who starts at a distinct disadvantage. Judging from various profiles of her career, von der Leyen has never been particularly popular and her management style, especially at the German defence ministry, has been questioned. But she has pushed through an equality agenda in demanding that each member state nominate both a man and a woman as candidates to serve in her commission. And her pledge to the European Parliament on Tuesday that she sees “a healthy planet as our greatest challenge and responsibility” is commendable, as long as she can follow it with appropriate action.
She will not take office until the end of October, just as the UK is supposed to leave the EU. That will be another major challenge she has to tackle. So, for now, let’s wait and give her a chance to prove her mettle.