Ursula von der Leyen has been elected president of the European Commission

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“GEWÄHLT ist gewählt und Mehrheit ist Mehrheit,” is a phrase in German politics coined by Gerhard Schröder, the former chancellor: “elected is elected and a majority is a majority”. The term could be Ursula von der Leyen’s new mantra. On the evening of July 16, the German defense minister was elected as the new president of the European Commission by the European Parliament. She won 383 of the 733 votes cast, leaving the margin for an absolute majority by just nine votes, making her the first ever woman to chair the executive of the EU when Jean-Claude Juncker resigned at the end of October.

It was a much narrower victory than many expected. Mrs von der Leyen started the day with an eloquent and policy-packed speech aimed primarily at the center and centre-left of parliament, which is starting its new term following the European elections in May. She upset the Liberals by talking about an artificial intelligence strategy and ending the EU’s capital markets union, socialists with a commitment to reinstating unemployment and the minimum wage, and greens with promises for a Green Deal and more ambitious targets to reduce greenhouse gas. distributions. Other proposals were attractive across the pro-European centre, to those who might dismiss her as a dry, backroom politician: a right of legislative initiative for the European Parliament (that right in the commission), speeding up developments on the border. controls, a move away from unanimity requirements on foreign policy and a new approach to dealing with violations of the rule of law. The aim was clear: Mrs von der Leyen wanted to be elected by a broad “grand coalition” of the political mainstream. That should be easy. Her own centre-right bloc, the liberals, the socialists and the greens together hold 518 of the 751 seats in parliament.

But it wasn’t. The EPP group was in the center and the Liberals, it is true, were generally supportive. Under an agreement made by national leaders at a marathon summit of the Council of Europe that ended on July 2, Mrs von der Leyen would be nominated for the commission, Charles Michel, a liberal, for the presidency of the Council. European himself and Josep Borrell, a socialist, to the Commission. the post of high representative for foreign policy – with Christine Lagarde, the French head of the IMF, in charge of the European Central Bank. But many greens and socialists (led by groups from Germany itself) complained that this was a stitch-up, that it was unfair to the left and that it went against the convention of after 2014 where a “main political candidate” should win. mandate at the European election to be president of the Commission. That raised the specter of Mrs von der Leyen because of her majority to populists outside the mainstream, some of whom supported her to get Frans Timmermans, his preferred choice. the socialists.

Clearly Mrs von der Leyen wanted to avoid that outcome. Her speech this morning was her last attempt to do that. The vote was secret. But its narrowness suggests that she would not have won without the votes of, say, the right-wing populist MEP in Poland Law and Justice (PiS) or those of the authoritarian Fidesz from Hungary. One rumour, fueled by sources in Warsaw, is that Angela Merkel called PiS leaders to get their support for her and her partner (perhaps in exchange for German support to keep EU regional funds flowing to poor areas of Poland). On the other hand, none of the 16 Social democratic MEPs in Germany say they voted for her and almost no member of the Green Bloc of Parliament voted. Therefore, the president of the incoming commission will take office with her authority having already expired. Far from commanding a centrist majority in parliament, she faces accusations of engaging in some of the most unpleasant and unpredictable elements of the European right.

However, much of the media hyperventilation that greeted the close result was unwarranted. The result is the result of many factors: divisions in the European Council, the failure of the “main candidate” doctrine to take hold, the inability of the parliament to unite around another candidate, some MEPs retaliating against national leaders for forcing the their choice, the identity crisis of the European center-left and the uncertain strategic characteristics of the populist right. Law and Justice, like Fidesz, had and have no good reason to think that Mrs von der Leyen is particularly sympathetic to their worldview – indeed she was there as they seemed to her in the visions of her intended judicial apparatus. But he wanted to be seen supporting the “winning” candidate, which is why he cheerfully broadcasts a phone call that was supposed to Mrs. Merkel. It is enough to be seen as queens, but the truth is worse.

A majority is a majority. And regardless of the size of her majority, Mrs von der Leyen would have faced a difficult legislative picture in both parliament and the European Council, regardless of the margins. her Both are more divisive and confusing than before. Even if her charm offensive had been more successful and more deals had been struck, and if she had won a landslide victory of, say, 430 votes, that would have simply masked the violations. Such a coalition would have crossed such a wide range of views, from the greens to the right-wing nationalists, that its size would have been in keeping with the legislative lines that had to be to come, just as it would be under a different candidate for the presidency of the commission. A picture of the deception of the main number comes in the responses to Mrs von der Leyen’s election: the incoming commission president is shown with warm words and congratulations from the greens, who you voted for her, but was criticized for her left speech. with PiS figures, who did. The center is splintering, politics are more plural and power battles are raging; in Europe therefore down is sometimes up, and up is sometimes down.

The pressing question now, however, is the same one that would have arisen if her majority had been much larger: can Mrs von der Leyen build bridges? The Commission recommends EU legislation, which in most areas has been approved by the European Council and the parliament. The two are more divided than before and more at odds with each other. Crafting measures to meet the multiple demands of a turbulent world and potentially bridge these disruptions will involve diplomacy, deal-making and persuasion. Mrs von der Leyen, moderately multilingual, showed today that she has at least some talent for this – although many German critics of her problems as defense minister want to inter- different Her first test will put together a commission and ask candidates (nominated by national governments) to make a complete team capable of and committed to achieving gender balance. A choice is made. Now Mrs von der Leyen must lead.

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