October 16, 2019
After Goulard, von der Leyen needs to show leadership
Will Sylvie Goulard be the last Commissioner-designate to fall as the European parliament, Paris, Berlin and the new Commission settle their grudges? We still cannot be sure that von der Leyen's Commission will be confirmed. The European Parliament has postponed her investiture, as a result of which the Juncker-Commission will continue for at least another month.
The FT pointed out that one of the reasons Goulard fell was that her party Renew Europe would not sign a non-aggression pact with others ahead of the hearings. They insisted that the candidates are to be measured based on their merits. After Renew launched attacks that led to the rejection of an EPP candidate, the gloves were off. Retaliation was the name of the game. After two long and excruciating hearings Goulard only got 12 votes outside Renew and was out of the running. But at what price? As we keep pointing out, the EPP and PES no longer command an outright majority and must rely on working together with the Greens or Renew. Not the best start into the five year legislative period for the European Parliament. The EPP, PES and the Greens also flexed their muscles on Goulard in a move to demonstrate the power of the European parliament against Emmanuel Macron and the new Commission.
Goulard was Emmanuel Macron's candidate even if she was not his first choice. His intervention after the first hearing, with calls to Berlin and Madrid, did nothing to save her. Angela Merkel no longer has the whip to get MEPs in line. And the EPP was on a rampage, blaming Macron for killing Manfred Weber's spitzenkandidat bid for the job of commission president even if the EPP group itself could not agree on him before. The PES had its own reasons to reject Goulard, as did the Greens.
Macron is built for success not for failure. Shortly after the defeat he went on to pass the blame to von der Leyen. In an off-cuff remark he said that von der Leyen had assured him that she had talked to the EP groups and that Goulard would get through, something von der Leyen and both the EPP and PES denied. On Monday Macron and von der Leyen had to paper over their differences and hold some constructive talks instead. But Macron has seriously wounded her standing at a critical moment by encouraging doubts about her judgements. Not a good start. Von der Leyen might have learned a lesson from this episode. It will now be up to her and the European parliament how the next phase of hearings will go.