(Bloomberg) — Ursula von der Leyen faces continued opposition from European Union lawmakers in the Socialist party to her bid for the bloc’s most powerful political post.
The 60-year-old German Christian Democrat has yet to win over a sizable number of Socialist members of the European Parliament from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Britain as she seeks the backing of an absolute majority of the 751-seat assembly to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker atop the EU’s executive arm.
The road block highlights the risk of a veto of the main plank of last week’s hard-fought jobs deal among government leaders. The Socialists are the No. 2 faction in the EU Parliament and many of them are bitter their formal candidate for European Commission president — Dutchman Frans Timmermans — was rejected.
“We will open a debate in our group and we will try to have a common position,” faction leader Iratxe Garcia of Spain told reporters Wednesday in Brussels after she and her colleagues met with von der Leyen, Germany’s defense minister and an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Forming majorities in the EU Parliament has become more difficult because the Christian Democrats and Socialists saw their combined share of seats fall below 50% for the first time in elections in May.
EU leaders on July 2 unexpectedly tapped von der Leyen for the much-coveted job of commission chief after weeks of bruising deliberations that sidelined Timmermans and a rival candidate — Manfred Weber of Germany — put forward by the Christian Democrats.
Von der Leyen can count on the support of the Christian Democrats, who are the biggest group with 182 seats; at least a chunk of the 153-strong Socialists; and the No. 3 Liberals, who have 108 seats.
In that context, she is also seeking the backing of groups such as the European Conservatives and Reformists, with 62 seats, to secure the minimum 376 votes needed to succeed Juncker in November and become the first female commission president.
In a separate potential setback on Wednesday, von der Leyen may have lost the support of at least part of the European Conservatives and Reformists as a result of an obscure dispute involving a former Polish prime minister.
Members of the EU Parliament’s employment committee rejected a bid by Beata Szydlo to head the panel on the grounds she was Polish premier when the country pushed through a judicial overhaul deemed by the EU to have undermined democratic standards.
Szydlo’s Law & Justice Party belongs to the European Conservatives and Reformists, who were entitled to the chairmanship of the employment committee under the assembly’s system for divvying up internal posts. The group, also known as the ECR, is the sixth-biggest and includes a 26-strong Polish contingent.
Some ECR members had threatened to vote against von der Leyen’s nomination to head the commission should Szydlo lose out on the leadership of the employment committee in the EU Parliament. They argued that other political groups would be playing unfairly by rejecting Szydlo while expecting the ECR to endorse von der Leyen.
“This vote on Szydlo will have consequences for the election of von der Leyen,” Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a Polish member of the ECR, told Bloomberg News after the committee verdict. Szydlo lost in a secret ballot, with 27 against her and 21 in favor.
The EU Parliament, which provisionally plans to vote on von der Leyen on July 16, may change the day to July 17, according to officials in the assembly. The institution’s leadership intends on Thursday to fix the date, said the officials. Von der Leyen is due to address the full EU Parliament on July 16, when the assembly will be holding a plenary session at its headquarters in Strasbourg, France.
Should she win EU Parliament support, von der Leyen would begin to assemble a team of commissioners proposed by national capitals. The commission leadership is made up of one appointee from each EU country and the bloc’s Parliament would vote on von der Leyen’s whole team in October.
In a meeting with EU Liberal lawmakers on Wednesday, von der Leyen said her goal was to head a team in which half the commissioners were female. To that end, von der Leyen said she would ask EU governments to propose one male and one female appointee for her to choose between.
(Updates with possible dates of vote in 14th paragraph.)
–With assistance from Marine Strauss and Stephanie Bodoni.
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