3 July 2019

After days of negotiations in Brussels, EU leaders finally agreed on a ‘package’ of nominations for the next top positions of EU institutions.

  • German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has been proposed as the new European Commission President. Her nomination will have to be approved by a majority in the European Parliament.
  • Belgian Acting Prime Minister Charles Michel has been elected as the new President of the European Council for a two-and-a-half year term, until May 2022.
  • Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell was nominated for the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
  • For the role of President of the European Central Bank, the Council has nominated the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde from France.

On 3 July, the European Parliament has also elected David Sassoli, an MEP from Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party as its new President for a 2,5 year term.

Below is a brief overview of how the press in selected member states reacted to these choices.

Most of the analysis and commentary focuses specifically on the choices relating to politicians from their countries, and the impact of their nominations in EU jobs for domestic politics.

Several commentators note the ‘Franco-German’ deal that has dominated in the process, while others point out to the lack of democracy as none of the candidates are MEPs, none were ‘lead candidates’ for a group in the European Parliament (EP) and they have not led campaigns.

 

Germany

German daily Die Welt looks at the appointment of von der Leyen through a domestic lens. With the headline “the German army can breathe,” it comments that “for the soldiers it may be an alleviation” that she leaves her job as German Defence Minister after six years, noting that “her relationship with the soldiers can be considered as strained.”

Meanwhile, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung comments that the appointment of Lagarde as ECB President is “a missed chance for the ECB,” writing that “the independence of the ECB is a valuable good. Will Lagarde defend it?” Noting Lagarde’s background in law rather than in economics, the paper also argues that there is “a trend of former politicians entering the boards of central banks.” It points out that “for a long time already, Merkel had considered the presidency of the Commission to be of more importance” than the ECB one.

The business paper Handelsblatt comments that “it was Macron who first came up with the name of von der Leyen, on Monday [2 July] morning”, which is confirmed by the Süddeutsche Zeitung. The latter however notes that “nothing is certain” about nominations, as MEPs still need to approve them.

 

France

Le Monde daily argues that France and Germany are “the biggest winners” of the “long and painful” negotiations, although the victory of Chancellor Merkel is less important than the one of President Macron, given the tensions within the German ruling coalition. The losers are many and include those who were hopeful to lead the Commission such as Denmark’s Margrethe Vestager and the Netherlands’ Frans Timmermans, the lead candidates of the Renew Europe and Socialist groups.

Elsewhere, Le Figaro notes,

If the objective was to get together the Franco-German couple after multiple months of tensions and incomprehension, then it’s a success.

Belgium

Belgian daily Het Laatste Nieuws comments that “there is a good chance Michel does better as European Council President than as Belgian PM, because he will be more of a diplomat than a politician, being able to exert more patience than having to put himself forward,” adding, “At the international level he could continue as if his government had not collapsed already in December. He has managed to forge friendly links with world leaders.”

The French-language Le Soir notes that Michel’s nomination was unexpected, as everyone thought Foreign Minister Didier Reynders would be taking up this post. The paper’s editorial praises the appointment, and the fact that it gives Belgium an important role in Europe, adding that it is once again “indispensable to solve the balance between great powers.”

 

Italy

Much of the Italian press is critical of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s lack of influence at the summit and his ‘giving into’ a Franco-German agreement.

An analytical piece in La Repubblica daily describes the whole situation as a “checkmate” from Merkel and Macron for the populist government in Italy, adding that Italy is left “ridiculed” from the summit.

The Tempi journal says the nominations are a bad result for Italy and for the whole of Europe and argues that

being female is not enough to solve the blatant crisis of confidence of the European people towards the technocrats in Brussels.

An editorial in Corriere della Sera also strikes a pessimistic note, arguing that the only good news for Italy are the election of Sassoli as EP President, adding that “with a contested ending, the conclave of EU leaders which should have lead Europe out of trouble proved to be below the task.” The piece argues that Italy could hope for an important economy-related Commission portfolio, adding that it went from a founding country to a “saboteur country.”

 

Netherlands

Dutch daily De Volkskrant comments that “Angela Merkel is the biggest loser in the discussion about the top jobs” and Macron is “the big winner. From the beginning, he opposed the Spitzenkandidaten system.” The paper also reports that Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte called it “too crazy for words” and “bizarre” that the attempts of the Visegrad 4 (Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic and Slovakia) to frustrate the bid by the Dutch lead candidate of the Socialists, Frans Timmermans, had prevailed.

 

Spain

This is neither a catastrophe, but nor should we make false illusions about the success of these candidates in their jobs, notes the daily El Pais. It also says that the profiles of some of the new leaders, except for Josep Borrell, are “weak or inadequate.”

Meanwhile, El Mundo is pessimistic about the results of the summit for Spain, arguing that it is the strict minimum that Prime Minister Sanchez managed to achieve. The paper says negotiations began after the European elections “with a dinner between Sanchez in the name of the Socialists and Macron representing the Liberals,” but ended “as always, with a meeting between France and Germany.” It also negative about Borrell’s prospective influence in the EU,  saying that the position of High Representative for Foreign Affairs is not even considered a “top job” anymore, as the EU does not have a common foreign policy.

 

Ireland

In the Irish Times, it is argued that the “unprecedented stalemate – and the manner of its resolution” at the summit “demonstrates how things are changing for Ireland as the EU looks to the post-Brexit era,” adding,

The indecision of recent days demonstrates the shifting sands of power on the European Council… and the politics that surrounds it.