German-French axis in Europe is complex but stable.

IF – 07/2019


During the last meeting of the Heads of State and Government in mid-June, even a night of long negotiations did not help with finding a nominee for the new Commission President from the two Spitzenkandidaten (top candidates) in the European election campaign, Manfred Weber (EPP) and Frans Timmermans (S&D). President Macron was not in favour of Weber; his allies were the Benelux countries, Spain and Portugal.

Timmermans was mainly opposed by the Eastern European Member States, because in the past the Social Democrat has openly denounced the political situation in the Eastern European countries. The Heads of State and Government were therefore unable to agree on the two top candidates or on liberal Commissioner Vestager.

The main criteria for the process for selecting persons for all EU top offices were gender, political party and regionality.

German-French domination

France and Germany dominated the negotiations and were able to secure the most important posts for themselves, the Commission and the European Central Bank. The Heads of State and Government nominated Ursula von der Leyen as candidate for the European Commission President, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as the future President of the EU Council, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell as EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner and Frenchwoman Christine Lagarde as the future President of the European Central Bank. The ‘Grande Dame’ of the financial world currently heads the International Monetary Fund.

Von der Leyens’ main task: overcoming European divisions and building trust

The biggest surprise was probably also the most important position, namely the nomination of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen as the new President of the Commission. She will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker in the autumn.

The week before her electional date she was hard at work convincing the parliamentary groups in the European Parliament of her objectives, such as achieving a climate-neutral EU by 2050 with a ‘Green Deal’; proposing a right of initiative for the European Parliament; the introduction of a European unemployment reinsurance scheme and a European cancer plan. She also made reference to strengthening social security with a view to improving the rights of workers in non-standard employment. These were just some of her issues that are of interest to the German social insurance system.

In a secret ballot on 16 July, Von der Leyen was approved by the European Parliament in Strasbourg by 383 votes to 327. She must now swiftly prepare a work programme for the European Commission and recruit her Commissioners. After the summer break, the Commissioners will also have to answer questions from Members of the European Parliament. They will then be scrutinised to see whether they are sufficiently experienced in their field and suitable for their respective positions.

A ‘red’ president for the EU Parliament

Another appointment, independent of the proposals of the European Council, was the election of the Italian Social Democrat David-Maria Sassoli. He was elected President of the European Parliament at the first constituent session of the 9th parliamentary term in the second round of voting with 345 votes, that is, more than half of the total 667 valid votes. He has already received worldwide attention due to the announcement of the election result of Ursula von der Leyen as President of the Commission.

The Social Democrat will lead the Parliament for the first two and a half years of the legislature, followed by a change in the second half of the legislature. Then the Christian Democratic European People’s Party (EPP) will take its place. This could possibly see Manfred Weber taking on the role.

Filling of committees

Please find more information about the filling of parliamentary committees in our news ‘New faces, familiar faces.’