At The Heart Of The European Union, Merkel And Macron Disagree On Democracy
The recent European Parliamentary elections delivered a mixed bag of results in both France and Germany.
France’s President Emmanuel Macron, one of the most vocal supporters of deeper European integration, saw his Liberal Alliance gain 22.4% of the vote being narrowly beaten by the far-right Marine Le Pen’s National Rally with 23.3%. Clearly, the shadow of protests by the Yellow Vests (Gilets jaunes) movement continues to stalk the French President. (Source: dpa-infocom)
In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union and its sister party Christian Social Union “CDU/CSU” took first place with 28.9% of the vote, down from 35.3% in 2014 and were stunned by the rise of the Greens, whose vote rose from 10.7% to 20.5%. (Source: dpa-infocom)
So, both parties were dealt a blow by their respective electorates, however, it is not their showing in this poll that is making the latest headlines. Instead, it is the disagreement between the French president and German chancellor over the top role at the European Commission (EC).
EU leaders are set to meet in Brussels today (May 28) to discuss the outcome of the vote and begin the nomination process for the heads of the EU institutions. Ahead of this meeting, the German leader has said Germany favors choosing the top candidate from the winning party of Sunday’s EU elections as the next president of the European Commission (EC). This would allow the process to be completed quickly.
“…We want to find a solution as soon as possible given that the European Parliament will convene at the start of June and it is naturally desirable if by that time we have a proposal from the European Council…”
She added that her conservative CDU/CSU alliance and the coalition’s SPD junior partners still backed the “Spitzenkandidat” (leading candidate) process. This allows the candidate selected by the winning party ahead of the European elections to be put forward to the EU Parliament vote as the next president of the EC.
The conservative European People’s Party (EPP) came out on top with a projected 178 seats. However, at the last election it won 221 and, with changes since 2014, it entered the elections with 217. A loss of dozens of seats is not really a ringing endorsement, although its leading candidate, Manfred Weber of Germany, would still appear to be the favorite for the Commission Presidency.
Whilst President Macron of France is similarly keen for a swift agreement on a nominee, he said on May 27 that the “Spitzenkandidat” system should not be automatic. It is well known he opposes the coronation process.
He feels empowered for, although in France his group only placed second, his En Marche! movement is expected to have 23 seats in the European Parliament for the first time.
It will likely be the largest party in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the third largest bloc in the parliament with a projected 105 seats, behind the European People’s Party (EPP) (178 seats) and the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) (153 seats). [The final seat count, as reported in The Guardian, is provisional at the time of writing.]
EPP leader Manfred Weber, of the CSU, has reached out to other political groups as he seeks to establish a broad coalition that can straddle a wide political spectrum. That appears to be a tall order as Pascal Canfin, from Macron’s En Marche! said:
“… In our view, Angela Merkel’s favorite candidate is totally disqualified today … The future majority of the European Parliament goes through us, without question. There isn’t one without us…”
In a statement released earlier on May 28, the leaders of the majority parties in the newly elected European Parliament called on national leaders to nominate the Spitzenkandidat for the EU executive.
Their statement said such a step was:
“… reconfirming our resolve for the lead candidate process so that the next Commission president has made her/his program and personality known prior to the elections and engaged in a European-wide campaign…”
Still, politics in Europe is far from a harmonious union and the liberal ALDE group rejected the statement, insisting national leaders abandon the Spitzenkandidat system. The second and third placed blocs are determined that their preferred candidates i.e. current Vice President Frans Timmermans of the S&D and outgoing EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager of ALDE have a fair shot at the top job.
As if the EU does not have enough on its plate—with Brexit, it is at risk of descending into the murky world of political horse-trading when it should just get on with addressing the EU’s many problems. No wonder the people at large are growing tired of career politicians…all talk and little action.