by Holger Schmieding*
Will the European Parliament scupper the deal over top jobs in the European Union? The risk is real.
By proposing Ursula von der Leyen as the successor to Jean-Claude Juncker, the leaders of EU member states have ignored the stated desire of many members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to let one of their “Spitzenkandidaten“ lead the new European Commission.
Even many mainstream MEPs may be tempted to vote against von der Leyen in the secret ballot to be held in the week of July 15. Judging by the snap reactions from some Brussels insiders, anger runs deep.
Von der Leyen’s advantages
However, for four reasons, there is a high probability that she will be confirmed:
1. Angry mainstream MEPs have largely themselves to blame. After none of the mainstream parties came sufficiently far ahead of the others in the May 23-26 election to claim victory, they could have jointly rallied behind one of their candidates. They failed to do so.
Simply saying that one of their three candidates should get the job without agreeing who that should be was not good enough. Unable to strike the messy compromises themselves, MEPs de facto invited EU national leaders to find their very own solution.
2. As a conservative woman with the reputation as a tough person, von der Leyen seems well qualified for the job. Her strong pro-European convictions make it difficult for mainstream MEPs to vote against her.
3. Voting down von der Leyen would trigger an institutional crisis in the EU. Apart from the anti-EU fringes, no political force could expect to benefit. Such a crisis could give the anti-EU fringes the kind of moral victory that voters had largely denied them on May 23-26.
4. The European Parliament has already elected center-left David-Maria Sassoli (Italy) as its president for 2.5 years; the European Council has proposed Christine Lagarde as new ECB president.
This has created facts. Rejecting von der Leyen would not lead to a completely different package for top jobs.
What if von der Leyen is voted down? To maintain balance, the Conservatives would almost certainly insist that the European Commission will have to be led by one of them nonetheless.
Expect no u-turn by Macron
French President Emmanuel Macron would hardly let himself be humiliated by dropping his opposition to the conservative “Spitzenkandidat” Manfred Weber at this stage.
Having agreed to Christine Lagarde instead of Jens Weidmann for the ECB, Germany would probably insist on sending a German to the European Commission.
Beyond registering their anger, disgruntled MEPs would probably achieve nothing by rejecting the jobs deal. They could neither force EU leaders to nominate a “Spitzenkandidat” nor to award the job to a different political group.
De facto, MEPs may face a choice between von der Leyen and a potential other German center-right candidate. If so, why should they really reject the strongly pro-European von der Leyen?
Instead, I expect MEPs to gradually turn their focus towards issues of substance, perhaps by agreeing a cross-party agenda to which von der Leyen would have to largely sign up in order to be confirmed.
The rules are clear. Having been proposed by EU national leaders, a prospective president of the European Commission needs to be confirmed in a secret ballot by an absolute majority in the EU parliament.
Last time, Juncker had received 422 out of 729 votes cast on July 15, 2014. This time, the numbers are quite challenging.
If all 751 MEPs show up, von der Leyen would need 376 votes (as two Catalan MEPs may not be there, the threshold could be 375 instead).
Taken together, the four pro-European mainstream groups have 518 MEPs, 182 for the center-right, 154 for the center-left, 108 for the liberals and 74 for the Greens.
Many Conservatives are frustrated. The Greens and some key members of the center-left have publicly opposed the deal. Although von der Leyen faces an uphill struggle, I expect her to prevail.
It will not be easy at all. Von der Leyen started to court MEPs yesterday. If she stumbles in her contacts with MEPs, or if she does not strike the right tone upon presenting her ideas to parliament just ahead of the vote, she may not make it.
But, on balance, it is likely that she will overcome the hurdle and lead the next European Commission.
*chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London
**first published in theGlobalist