Emmanuel Macron underestimated the European Parliament. The French president was too sure that in the EU of the Member States the co-legislator had no particular role. He wanted to submit the name of Sylvie Goulard for the post of next commissioner for Industry, internal market and defense despite the French woman’s pending problems with justice. By acting so, Macron offered the MEPs the opportunity to show that the Parliaments counts.
Officially Goulard was fired because of the ethical issue. MEPs who quizzed her contested Goulard’s past affiliation to the US think-tank Berggruen at the time where she was an MEP. There are concerns about the possibility she can have disclosed classified or sensitive information to the Americans. Secondly, she was found guilty of having misused money of the European Parliament. The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) is still investigating on this case, and MEPs from Industry and Internal market committees didn’t want to have people with pending issues.
A political decision
Despite the reasons used to reject Goulard, MEPs gave a political lesson to the French president. Macron is considered the main architect of the failure of the so-called “Spitzenkandid system”. Spitzendkandidat is a German expression indicating the nomination of the main candidate for the presidency before a ballot.
Before the European elections the European People’s Party (EPP) indicated the German MEP Manfred Weber as Juncker’s successor at the head of the European Commission. Macron always spoke out against the Spitzenkandidat system, and in the end was able not to allow any consensus on the name proposed by the EPP. It has to be noticed that Goulard was rejected by 82 to 29, with 1 abstention. Figures suggest that the main opposer to Goulard were the MEPs from EPP. The christian-democrats sent a clear message.
Goulard’s assessment was also an opportunity for the Greens to have their revenge. In the political negotiations for the EU top-jobs the Greens remained out of the game. They claimed in particular the presidency of the European Parliament, granted to the socialists. The Greens already didn’t support the president elected of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen. Now they decided to send a new, further and stronger message: in the new European Parliament, where no clear majorities and alliances are there, Greens can make the difference.
Last but not least, a liberal was missing in the list of the rejected commissioners-designate. The European Parliament vetoed Rovana Plumb, a social-democrat, for the role of responsible for Transport. The same institution also vetoed László Trócsányi, a christian-democrat, suggested for the role of commissioner for Enlargement. Somebody wanted to balance the situation. Goulard’s rejection gives one failure to each of the three main political families.
Von der Leyen now is much more weaker
In the “Goulard affair” the main loser is Macron, but von der Leyen lost a lot in term of credibility and political capability. It is true that commissioners-designated are chosen by governments, but it is also true that these names are negotiated and agreed with the president elected of the European Commission. Ursula von der Leyen knew about Goulard’s ethical question. She knew that for such a reason the French candidate could be attacked, as it was. Goulard was not the best name, and von der Leyen had to pretend from Macron another name.
The president of the coming European Commission is responsible of her own failures. Five years ago, when Jean-Claude Juncker was elected at the head of the EU executive body, the Luxembourgish chose by himself his commissioners. He was able to force the heads of State and government to submit different names to those proposed. He wasn’t able to reach the target of female members, but he was capable of having a team of people without reproach.
Juncker knows that the European Parliament matters. Von der Leyen apparently ignored. She thought that the Parliament could consider her team as good and reliable. No mistake was bigger. As a result now her Commission very likely will be in power later than scheduled (1 November). And she appears very weak in the eyes of the Parliament.