Ursula von der Leyen took over as President of the European Commission in December last year, but her rise within the EU didn’t come without bickering between Germany and France. Leaders gathered in the EU capital 48 hours after the European elections last May to make headway on choosing the next Commission President, but in the end made little progress. At the time, German Chancellor Merkel backed her ally Manfred Weber, the German lead candidate of her centre-right political alliance.
Meanwhile, French President Macron expressed frustration with the spitzenkandidat system used to select the President of the Commission.
Mr Macron said: “Today I do not want names to be talked about, names to be attacked; I think we have to take into account what came out of the polls, what the European people have expressed and we must also have decision-makers who have the credibility to be able to act.”
The spitzenkandidat system involves each political grouping in the European Parliament selecting a lead candidate or candidates prior to the European Parliament election on the understanding that the largest political group would then have a mandate to lead the Commission.
The French President surprisingly named Michel Barnier – the EU’s Brexit negotiator – as one candidate who would be qualified for the job.
He added: “Like Mr Barnier, as Mr Timmermans, people who have precisely these skills but I do not want today to have a debate on the names, I want to have a debate about the project, priorities and criteria.”
Mr Macron seemed to put down Mrs Merkel’s preferred choice once more, adding that the president would wield the “greatest executive power of Europe, so one must know what an executive power is, and have the competence to do it”.
Then President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, played down the importance of the spitzenkandidat system.
He said: “I think that it was clear from the very beginning… that the treaty obligation is more important that political ideas and inventions, and this is why we repeated our position which was declared during our European Council in February last year – there’s no automaticity [in the lead candidate becoming president] and it’s not a problem at all for our partners in the European parliament to accept this fact.”
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According to AFP, she told representatives of small and medium-sized companies that “there are some European leaders who will soon leave political life. This leads to caution, not boldness”.
This appeared to be a swipe at the German Chancellor, who announced 12 months earlier she would not continue in her role beyond 2021.
President Macron’s party was dealt a damning message in France’s European Elections.
Marine Le Pen and her far right National Rally secured victory in the vote, asserting themselves as Mr Macron’s main opposition in the country.
The nationalist party topped the polls with 23 percent of the vote, less than one point ahead of Mr Macron’s centrist grouping on 22 percent.
Mrs Merkel’s party and its coalition partner won a combined 28.7 percent of the vote, down 7 points from the previous vote in 2014.
Despite winning in Germany, it was the CDU’s worst result ever.