Agreement reached to reappoint von der Leyen as Commission president

EU leaders meeting at a summit agreed on Thursday to grant Ursula von der Leyen a second term as head of the Commission and to entrust European diplomacy to a strong voice on Ukraine, Estonian Kaja Kallas.
This agreement on key EU posts was quickly concluded, despite strong resistance from Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and Hungary’s Viktor Orban.

Mrs von der Leyen’s reappointment will have to be confirmed by an absolute majority of MEPs: “There is still one step (…) I will seek the approval of the European Parliament after presenting my political roadmap for the next five years,” insisted the German conservative leader.

The outcome of this vote, expected in mid-July, is uncertain, with the usual coalition of conservative, socialist and liberal MEPs weakened following the June elections.

To embody the face of EU diplomacy against the backdrop of the war in Ukraine, the heads of state and government have chosen Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas – a determined opponent of the Kremlin. This 47-year-old liberal will succeed the Spaniard Josep Borrell.

“This is an enormous responsibility in these times of geopolitical tensions, with the war in Europe, the growing instability in our neighbourhood, as the main challenges,” reacted Ms Kallas, whose position will also have to be validated.

“Kaja Kallas understands the risks coming from Russia and Belarus,” welcomed the head of the Polish government Donald Tusk.

Finally, the former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa was appointed new President of the European Council, the body bringing together the Member States. A year after his resignation over a corruption case that was ultimately poorly supported, this socialist known for being skillful, tactical and pragmatic will succeed the Belgian Charles Michel in December.

“Very quick decision”

These three candidates were largely favorites following the agreement reached Tuesday between six European leaders – including the French Emmanuel Macron and the German Olaf Scholz – belonging to the right-wing/social-democrats/centrists “grand coalition”, in the wake of the European elections.

Mr. Scholz welcomed Thursday “a very quick and forward-looking decision”, in contrast to the laborious designation process that tore the Twenty-Seven apart five years ago.

However, the Hungarian nationalist Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, castigated Thursday a “shameful” arrangement: “European voters have been deceived. (The traditional right) has formed a coalition of lies with the left and the liberals”, he had raged upon arriving at the summit.

Also left out of the negotiations between the three political groups, the head of the ultraconservative Italian government, Giorgia Meloni, had for her part denounced an “oligarchy”.

Many leaders have nevertheless shown themselves to be careful to spare her: if her support was not necessary – unanimity is not required – politically her voice counts. According to a diplomatic source, she abstained on Ursula von der Leyen and voted against Kaja Kallas and Antonio Costa.

“I think there was a broad consensus, and I am sure that a way will be (found) later: I totally respect the position of Giorgia Meloni who represents an important country,” Emmanuel Macron stressed at the end of the summit.

Orban’s hopes

Like Viktor Orban, Ms. Meloni intends to weigh more on the choices of the future executive in Brussels, following the rise of the radical and extreme right during the European elections this month. The Italian leader’s ECR group took third place from the centrist family of French President Emmanuel Macron in the European Parliament.

Rome is demanding “at the very least” a vice-presidency of the European Commission, with an “important portfolio” to influence industrial and agricultural policy, according to its Minister of Foreign Affairs Antonio Tajani.

This meeting of the Twenty-Seven was held three days before early legislative elections in France, for which the National Rally (far right) is widely expected to be in the lead.

When asked whether this election “cast a shadow” on the EU, Viktor Orban considered that on the contrary it brought a “ray of sunshine”, believing that “great things can happen (in France) on Sunday”.

For his part, Emmanuel Macron announced during a meeting with his liberal allies his wish to reappoint Thierry Breton as French member of the Commission, according to European sources. Since 2019, he has been Commissioner for the Internal Market, a vast portfolio that includes digital technology and industry.

The leaders of the 27 also endorsed on Thursday the “strategic agenda” setting the bloc’s priorities for the next five years, focusing on security, defence, competitiveness and the fight against irregular immigration.

This article is originally published on lequotidien.lu

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