Von der Leyen courts EU lawmakers in bid to become Commission chief

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen made her pitch to European lawmakers on Wednesday to be the next head of the EU executive, promising to focus on promoting the rule of law, digitalization, competitiveness and the fight against climate change.

FILE PHOTO: German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has been nominated as European Commission President, attends a news conference during a visit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, July 3, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo

The conservative German defense minister has to win over EU deputies who are annoyed that national leaders opted to nominate her rather than one of the lead candidates from the biggest political groupings in the new parliament after May’s election.

The European Parliament is due to vote on her candidacy next week. Von der Leyen needs the backing of an absolute majority of 376 votes in the 751-strong chamber to get confirmed as president of the European Commission.

“The EU is based on principles. This is the foundation – respect for the rule of law,” von der Leyen told a meeting with lawmakers from the liberal Renew Europe group in her first public policy comments since being nominated last week.

“This is the foundation – respect for the rule of law,” she said, adding that it was also vital to boost the competitiveness of the EU’s economy.

Von der Leyen said she wholeheartedly supported the EU going carbon neutral by 2050 and that the bloc should harvest the economic benefits of transitioning to environmentally-friendly policies.

She also said the EU needed to advance single market reforms, invest in joint defense capacities and “become more assertive” in its stance vis-à-vis the United States.

Von der Leyen, a 60-year-old former gynecologist and mother of seven, spoke in favor of enlarging the euro zone and the EU’s open-border Schengen area, provided countries meet the criteria. She said the EU should also be ready to take in Western Balkan countries.

On Brexit, she hoped Britain would still remain in the EU but, otherwise, she said it was essential that the divorce did not poison the chances for good future cooperation between the bloc and London.

DEMANDS

Smooth cooperation between the Commission, the Parliament and member state governments is essential to EU policy-making on everything from trade to migration to climate.

The lawmakers named their price on Wednesday for backing von der Leyen.

Socialist leader Iratxe Garcia Perez said after meeting von der Leyen on Wednesday that her grouping had made specific policy demands on fighting climate change, migration, gender equality and making the EU’s social model sustainable.

“We want to change Europe… we will take a decision next week about how we will vote,” she told reporters.

So far, von der Leyen can count on the conservative European People’s Party (EPP), who have 182 seats in the assembly, and most likely the liberals, who have 108 lawmakers. But she needs more votes and some could come from the Socialists, the second largest grouping in the parliament.

She could also seek support from among the Greens and eurosceptics in the assembly, who are have made different and often contradictory demands as the price of their support.

German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who has been nominated as European Commission President, attends the Conference of Presidents of European Parliament’s party blocs in Brussels, Belgium, July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

The risk is that any promises she makes to win more votes could confuse future EU policies. Failing to secure enough support would force an embarrassing delay or possibly even push EU states to look for another candidate.

The Commission has a wide range of functions. They include proposing laws, policing member states’ budgets, acting as competition watchdog and negotiating trade deals around the world.

Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio, Robin Emmott, Alissa de Carbonnel, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska, Editing by Gareth Jones



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