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German government casts doubt on support for von der Leyen nomination

The German coalition government is not unconditionally supporting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s bid for a second mandate

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Asked by Euractiv about Germany’s position on the system of lead candidates, government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said that the coalition agreement of the three ruling parties applies.
Asked by Euractiv about Germany’s position on the system of lead candidates, government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said that the coalition agreement of the three ruling parties applies.

by Nick Alipour

The German coalition government is not unconditionally supporting European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s bid for a second mandate, with high-ranking representatives of the ruling parties saying she would need to make concessions in return for German support.

Von der Leyen’s party group, the European People’s Party (EPP), is projected to secure most votes in June’s ballot, which would require EU leaders to nominate her for Commission president if they follow the Spitzenkandidaten system.

Asked by Euractiv about Germany’s position on the system of lead candidates, government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit said that the coalition agreement of the three ruling parties applies.

“To my knowledge, it is not in the coalition agreement that the lead candidate of the strongest parliamentary group should be nominated,” he said on Monday (27 May).

While the coalition agreement of the social democrat SPD, liberal FDP, and the Greens stipulates that the parties call for “a standardised European electoral law with partly transnational lists and a binding Spitzenkandidaten system” in principle, Hebestreit’s comments suggest that the government does not feel bound by the system for the current election.

This hints further that Germany may apply pressure on von der Leyen to elicit concessions in exchange for securing the vote of the EU’s largest member in the Council of 27 EU countries, which need to approve the new EU top jobs.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD, S&D) already warned on Friday that the next Commission president must not work with far-right parties, hinting that such an arrangement would be a red line.

Coalition names conditions

Making the Spitzenkandidaten system mandatory for EU leaders is mainly a “long-term” commitment, the deputy leading MP on EU affairs of Scholz’s SPD party, Johannes Schraps, explained.

The nomination of the next Commission president primarily needs to be “transparent” this time, he told Euractiv, adding that the SPD’s support was conditional on the Commission renouncing “a majority that also requires support from right-wing extremists”, echoing Scholz’s comments.

Scholz’s junior partner, the Greens, back this condition.

“I expressly welcome that the chancellor expects the next Commission leadership to rule out cooperation with right-wing extremists,” Green MP Anton Hofreiter, the chair of the Bundestag’s European affairs committee, told Euractiv.

The second junior partner, the liberal FDP, voiced support for conditionality in principle.

While the Liberals would remain committed to the Spitzenkandidaten system, von der Leyen would have to make some concessions to secure the support of the German government, Thomas Hacker, the FDP’s lead MP on European affairs, told Euractiv.

“If Ms von der Leyen is nominated, she must commit to a practical policy that brings relief [from bureaucracy] and technology neutrality (…). Only then can she ask for the support of the German government,” he said.

France, the second largest EU member, has also sent ambiguous signals given that President Emmanuel Macron is rumoured to be backing former Italian prime minister Mario Draghi for the top job.

Against this backdrop, EPP representatives have intensified calls for their political opponents to respect the Spitzenkandidaten system.

“I do expect [the European] Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals to make a commitment before the election that they will support (…) the lead candidate of the strongest parliamentary group in Europe,” EPP chief Manfred Weber (CSU) told the annual conference of von der Leyen’s German party, the CDU.

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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