Every five years – the same procedure: a President of the EU Commission is nominated and the European Parliament (EP) is asked to confirm this choice during a Plenary Session in Strasbourg. To do this properly, the candidate is meeting the week before the political groups in the EP to introduce him/herself, present the key ideas and answer questions. As I was an MEP in the 1980’s and stayed in Brussels, I had the privilege to listen to a wide range of candidate hearings: Barroso was slick, Juncker sympathetic, however not too issue-oriented.
To attend such a hearing is difficult. Only two political groups (Greens and the left-wingers from GUE) allow representatives from the public. I attended therefore the hearings of these two groups. After the two hearings, the leadership of both political groups recommended to their MEPs not to vote for Ursula von der Leyen.
If I were still an MEP, I would have behaved differently. Why? There are three key reasons why one should vote for her.
1. Open to Green politics: Everyone knows that the successor of Juncker will neither be a Green nor a person who will represent the broad range of Green programmatic ideas. Our historic task has to be to elect a new EU Commission President for the coming five years that has an open ear and mind for sustainabilty, the fight against climate change and social disparities. Ursula von der Leyen was quite clear that she is not a Green, but that she would fight in the Commission for most of the Green key issues (CO2 tax, Mediterranean refugees, minimum wage, transparency — to name some).
2. Experience: She was a minister in a vast and varying range of executive positions: family, youth, labour, social and defense. Collegues of mine, who met her professionally, describe her as a mix of a good listener, value-oriented, strong in looking for compromises, a tough cookie with empathy. I have not met a single person, who would not agree that such a mix would be the ideal profile for an EU Commission President in these shaky times (while listening to her, I imagined how she would be able to be a strong counterpart to Putin, Trump and Xi).
3. Pragmatic: If she will not get the necessay 50% of the votes next week in Strasbourg – what would be the consequences? Easy to predict: an extraordinary EU Summit of the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the 28 EU Member States would nominate another person with a Christian-Democrat background. Who will it be? Difficult to imagine that it will be someone with more environmental and social openess than Ursula von der Leyen.
If she will not become the next EU Commission President – due to a couple dozen Green votes – we will certainly be confronted with a much less sensitive male EU Commission President. In such a case, I can already imagine some of the Green MEPs regretting their Strasbourg decision from July 2019. Please don’t let that happen