Berlin (AFP) – The nomination of German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen as new European Commission chief has sparked fresh tensions within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s fragile coalition.
While the Brussels-born, multi-lingual political veteran secured the nod of 28 European leaders, at home, her naming as Jean-Claude Juncker’s successor has been greeted with a sneer.
Minutes after EU leaders announced their deal on the bloc’s top jobs, Merkel’s junior coalition partner, the centre-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), rejected the deal done among EU leaders.
The SPD’s trio of interim leaders said von der Leyen “never stood for (EU) elections, and therefore is not convincing”.
Installing her as European Commission president would make an “absurd” mockery out of the attempt to democratise the EU.
Markus Soeder, the leader of Merkel’s Bavarian allies CSU, also cried unfair.
The CSU chief argued that his party’s Manfred Weber, who had stood as the leading candidate for the EPP centre-right bloc that came in top in the European Parliament polls, should be the one replacing Juncker.
But Weber was humiliatingly knocked out of the race, with French President Emmanuel Macron criticising his lack of experience in political leadership roles.
“It leaves a bitter taste that democracy lost and back room dealings won,” Soeder told national news agency DPA.
Bild daily in a commentary called the EU jobs deal “horrifically short-sighted”, complaining that it would perpetuate the idea that ultimately “the bosses will do their own thing” and disregard the people’s vote.
It called on the European Parliament, which will have to vote on the appointment, to reject it outright.
“If the European parliament still has an ounce of pride, it would said ‘no.’ Out of principle. Out of self-respect.”
– ‘Escape to the top’ –
Von der Leyen emerged as a surprising compromise option, winning the backing of rival factions from France to Italy to the so-called Visegrad 4 bloc of Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland.
Born in Brussels and fluent in French and English, the perfectly coiffed mother of seven and trained medical doctor has run a series of ministries in Germany.
While she was previously touted as Merkel’s crown princess, her star has waned at home — with voters rating her the second least liked cabinet minister in a poll published Sunday.
Under fire for her record in particular as defence minister, von der Leyen has been battling problems from far-right extremists within the army to controversial contracts with business consultancies to cost over-runs, including for the renovation of a vintage naval vessel.
Even within Merkel’s CDU, criticism flew over her nomination as it sparked a new round of jostling for power as the veteran leader stumbles.
The party’s conservative wing said in a statement that the fact that such an “unsuccessful minister” was given such a promotion is an “indication of another failure in the foreign policy of the chancellor”.
At the same time, it jumped at the chance to place its own demands on any cabinet reshuffle if von der Leyen is confirmed to the Brussels post.
Merkel, it said, must use the cabinet change to bring in Friedrich Merz, a conservative former investment fund boss with designs on Merkel’s job, “ideally in the economy ministry”.
Spiegel Online, describing von der Leyen’s nomination as an “escape to the top”, noted however that in the end, none of the outrage would prove truly genuine.
“The anger is justified, but it is also naive — if principles had prevailed, we would have no nominations today. And Ursula von der Leyen is without doubt an experienced, eloquent, and above all, a pro-European candidate.”