Things are looking up for Ursula von der Leyen if the mood in Strasbourg is anything to go by.
The nominee to be European Commission president faces her crucial confirmation vote in the parliament at 1800 local time on Tuesday and will wake up this morning feeling more confident she’ll make the cut than 48 hours ago.
After a series of eleventh hour meetings, phone calls, and letter exchange with parliament chiefs on Monday, Ms Von der Leyen has managed to convince “a large majority” of the socialists to support her according to party vice-president Roberto Gualtieri. She can also count on an overwhelming backing from her centre-right group and a larger number of liberal MEPs than was the assumption a week ago.
Still, there are plenty of variables that could swing the final result. Here’s our list of what will matter on decision day.
Factors in her favour
The parliament’s political families are more beholden than usual to national capitals. The likes of Spain’s Pedro Sanchez and Portugal’s António Costa have played an instrumental role marshalling centre-left MEPs. Emmanuel Macron, a Von der Leyen backer, has played a similar role in his liberal Renew Europe group. It means MEPs are a bit less independent than in the past.
Ms Von der Leyen has been dispersing policy promises in letters to party groups. They have not been big or flashy pledges, but it may have done the trick. One centre-left MEP said colleagues who were inclined to back Ms Von der Leyen now have the excuse they need.
As an extra sweetener, the German told officials on Monday that she will not be keeping Martin Selmayr — a polarising figure in the Juncker administration — in his job as secretary-general.
The right buffer
Ms Von der Leyen has a vote cushion on the right. MEPs from ruling anti-establishment parties in Poland and Italy may lend her support, making up for lost votes among pro-EU parties. This obviously carries a cost for Ms Von der Leyen. And she may not even be able to take it for granted. The Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists are smarting over the left and liberals stopping them from securing any senior jobs in parliament. Poland’s former prime minister Beata Szydlo failed again on Monday to land a position to lead one of the parliament’s committees.
There is no alternative
As pointed out in Monday’s Brussels Briefing, should Ms Von der Leyen fail, there is no back up plan in the parliament or the council. No obviously viable alternative names are emerging from either institutions making it all the more likely that it will be Ms Von der Leyen or bust.
Factors working against her
The threshold for a majority is 374 votes, regardless of how many MEPs actually turn up or manage to fill out their ballot correctly. On past form, it’s safe to assume 10 per cent will be a no-show. That can make a big difference.
This is the only democratic parliament in the world that has no whips. (Please let us know if we’ve overlooked somewhere.) Party discipline does not come naturally to this place. Around six out of 10 MEPs are new. And it’s a secret ballot. So treachery is cheap.
Ms Von der Leyen has an uphill task. She did not have time to build a pro-EU coalition. She did not have a policy platform tried and tested in the European elections. She’s an unknown quantity in Strasbourg. It means a lot rides on her speech on Tuesday — avoiding the minefield of egos and political agendas. Most notably, she will have to keep some anti-EU nationalists happy, without alienating her pro-EU base. One wrong move . . .
Since Jacques Santer two decades ago, commission president nominees have often underwhelmed in parliament votes. Their majorities are usually smaller than expected. Jean-Claude Juncker came to parliament with a fair political wind, but only emerged with a majority of 46. The numbers for Ms Von der Leyen are much tighter. She has no room for slip ups.
Von der Leyen reads
- Political scientist Cas Mudde calls on MEPs to reject the “motley crew” of candidates including Von der Leyen and proposed High Representative Josep Borrell. (The Guardian)
- Liberal Guy Verhofstadt wants Von der Leyen to channel the spirit of John F Kennedy in Strasbourg this morning. (Focus)
- A divided socialist group is the main threat to Von der Leyen’s election. (El País)
- What promises did Von der Leyen make in her effort to drum up votes. (Süddeutsche Zeitung)
Chart du jour: House of Cards
The UK’s new Tory prime minister will inherit the most unpredictable and unruly Conservative party in decades. The chart above shows how defections, by-elections and a supply-and-confidence deal with the DUP has chipped away at Tory unity (FT).
Taking on Kovesi
France’s nominee to be the next head of the European Public Prosecutor’s office makes his pitch for the job to Politico. Jean-François Bohnert, the pick of EU governments, is in a head to head contest with Romania’s acclaimed Laura Codruta Kovesi, the choice of the parliament, to lead the powerful new body.
Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu has accused the EU of “Nazi appeasement” over its stance on the Iran nuclear deal (Reuters):
“[It] reminds me of the European appeasement of the 1930s. Then, too, there were those who stuck their head in the sand and did not see the approaching danger. They won’t wake up till Iran’s nuclear missiles hit European soil. By then it will of course be too late”.
Macron to the rescue?
How Emmanuel Macron is trying to play the role of mediator between Tehran’s mullahs and America’s firebrand president. (Der Spiegel)
Electric scooters have taken over major European capitals. The Guardian reports from Copenhagen: just one of the cities divided by the scooter revolution.
Boris and the Blitz
Gideon Rachman cuts through the cakeism of Boris Johnson’s no-deal Brexiteering:
“Rather than seeing his premiership crumble away like a stale Victoria sponge, the chances are that he would appeal to the “Blitz spirit” — the legendary sense of national solidarity that saw Britain through adversity in the second world war. It is no accident that Mr Johnson is a biographer of Winston Churchill, the hero of Britain’s “finest hour”.
Le Figaro visits Lesbos, an idyllic Greek island where migrants are still there in force, trapped in squalid conditions, while tourism has dwindled and resentment has increased.