Wednesday, 17 July 2019

New president of the European Commission

Ursula von der Leyen, Angela Merkel's favoured candidate, scraped home in a 52%/48% (a familiar ratio!) secret ballot yesterday. On the face of it, this is another success for the EU in electing a person who had a life outside politics (she trained as a gynaecologist and also mothered seven children). Part of her education had been in London, at the LSE, where she is said to have enjoyed the more liberal atmosphere than in her native country. She had been plucked out of private life by Merkel in 2005 to head Germany's Ministry of Family Affairs. Both there and in a promotion to Labour and Social Affairs four years later she pushed an agenda of empowering women, and one can expect her to do the same in Brussels.

However, appearances can be deceptive. She spent "the first 13 years of her life in Brussels as the daughter of a high-level official at the European Union's predecessor institutions. Those formative years helped von der Leyen become fluent in English and French, in addition to her native German, and gave her confidence on the international stage. These were the characteristics the EU's 28 heads of state cited when they nominated her" (from Deutsche Welle's pen portrait). She also succumbed to "consultantitis" when she took her third government job, that of Minister of Defence. This was not her only shortcoming there, as DW points out.

My main concern is that she is an unapologetic advocate of a United States of Europe, an outdated concept in my opinion. Putting such a person in charge of the Commission will only encourage its centralising tendencies. Moreover, her record at the Ministry of Defence suggests that she will not keep a tight hold on the budget nor tackle the problem of tax avoidance left to her by Jean-Claude Juncker, the previous president who had arrived at his post via the finance ministry and then premiership of Luxembourg, which has benefited from being home to so many "brass-plate" companies. There are however checks built in to the EU constitution, the last two revisions of which gave more power to the European Parliament. The EP which has just been voted in shows signs of being the most lively yet - certainly much more liberal than the one it replaced - and I expect it to hold the Commission and its new president to account.

1 comment:

Frank Little said...

VoteWatch Europe confirms that the new president of the Commission is in for a bumpy ride - and predicts trouble ahead from the Parliament for the Council as well.