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The Impossible Candidate Edition

11 July 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?

Imagine an interview for a job you didn’t apply for where your career and personal life are scrutinised by 751 individuals who have a final say over your prospects. That is, in a nutshell, a day in the life of Ursula von der Leyen (VDL), the candidate nominated for European Commission President by the EU Council last week. As she does the rounds this week in the European Parliament, receptions varied from the warmth from her own EPP, lukewarm from Renew Europe and ECR to a cool response from S&D and finally a cold breath of arctic air from the Greens. The others didn’t even get an audience as votes from the majority within these groups would get her through the 375 vote threshold she needs to be confirmed next week in the Strasbourg plenary. The consensus, however, is that her plan for the next five years is half-baked at best, and unsubstantial pandering to each political group’s priorities at worst, making everyone uneasy as to where her heart really lies with regards to issues such as institutional reform, climate change and rule of law in member states.

Why it matters

It has been a “bumpy start” to her candidacy as VDL admitted to various groups during her tour, but she is hoping that her projection of an image of a safe pair of hands will garner similar support it has done for European Commission candidates in the past. However, times have changed and many MEPs in the European Parliament feel an institutional prerogative to not let the murder of the Spitzenkadidat process, which gave it a significant power, go unpunished and go back to the politics of business as usual where Council reigns supreme. In this regard, a win for VDL would not be simply satisfying the 375 votes needed. Indeed, even if she got all the votes from the three main parties (which is a pipe dream at this stage) it would give her 444 seats, not a good look especially if it is propped up by most of the right-wing ECR vote which is not guaranteed. The vote will be a secret ballot so all is there to win (or lose).

The takeaway

In an age where information runs fast, the twittersphere is tight, and meetings are live-streamed, it is hard to promise the world to different groups without each getting wind of the inconsistencies. What is sure is, in order to succeed VDL needs to pick a side and go for that tack. If it is the safe pair of hands that can assuage the concerns of the right-wing and the Visegrad governments so be it. If it is the radical reformer of the EU and aggressive climate change campaigner so be it as well. What she cannot be is all things to all (wo)men which is something, not even her ultimate patron, Emmanuel Macron, has managed to pull off as he reaches halfway point of his own mandate. Although the fact that her program is half baked is not her fault, (she learned of her candidacy only on Monday last week and was nominated on Tuesday afternoon), it is no excuse for dillydallying and flipflopping for the future of the EU relies on it. The risk of not voting her in and provoking another EUCO nightmare nomination session should be weighed in comparison with voting in an unsavoury Commission president, whilst holding our noses, as the EU enters one of the most crucial periods in its history. Your call, MEPs…

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week

65

The number of migrants who will be relocated from Malta to other EU countries. The individuals in question were rescued on the Alan Kurdi rescue ship off the coast of Libya and were initially not allowed to dock in Valletta. Instead, they were transferred onto a Maltese Navy ship in order for them to be able to enter Malta. Meanwhile, as a deal was brokered to send them to various European countries. Germany’s Foreign Horst Seehofer, pleaded with Italian authorities to take some of the various rescue ships on the Mediterranean in order to avoid them getting stuck in the limbo of the Alan Kurdi. In a world where people’s lives are considered as bargaining chips, two other rescue ships docked ‘illegally’ in Italy defying the policy of Interior Minister Matteo Salvini following the example of Carola Rackete, who was arrested and released last week for the same ‘offence’.

7

The amount in millions of euros that the EU has fined Hello Kitty. Yes, you read that right the cult Japanese cartoon character which is depicted on all sorts of products and paraphernalia. The company behind the brand, Sanrio Co, was fined by EU Competition Commissioner Margarethe Vestager after they were found to be in breach of EU rules by restricting licensees’ cross-border sales. The ‘anthropomorphic cat-girl’ and all of its iterations was broken down in bureaucratic style by Commission spokesman, Ricardo Cardoso, without flinching as he announced the measures amid laughter in the room.

158

The number of seats, out of 300, the party ‘Nia Demokratia’ won in the Greek parliamentary elections. By doing so, the centre-right party led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis unseated the incumbent Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his ‘far-left’ Syriza who have been at the helm of Greek politics for the past 4 years. However, the Mitsotakis name is no newcomer to Greek politics as Kyriakos follows the footsteps of his father Constantine who also served as Prime Minister and was one of Greece’s longest-serving parliamentarians. Expect the young Harvard-educated Mitsotakis to push ahead with a pro-business agenda that could upend Greece’s fragile recovery in the years following the eurozone crisis.

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4. Quotes of the Week

“I am a very unique guy. I was the first and the last Spitzenkandidat”

The joking remarks of incumbent President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker on the nomination of his successor, Ursula von der Leyen. He admitted that the process behind the EU Council’s negotiations was “not very transparent” and that he would have liked the Spitzenkadidat process to have been upheld. Despite this, and as a good EPP soldier, he will support Ms von der Leyen’s candidacy. What is sure is that he definitely is a unique guy, for more than one reason.

“They are afraid of people who have a vision, who dare to speak the truth, who can’t be bought for money”

The words of newly elected Hungarian MEP Katalin Cseh. The millennial politician, medical doctor and health economist went for a tour of Brussels with Raw Politics and expressed her mission statement for young people disrupting politics. Cseh co-founded Momentum while at university, a political movement in Hungary responding to the assault on democracy and rule of law by Viktor Orban. She is now a vice-president of Renew Europe group in the European Parliament

“I want it to be a unique candidate, presented by the EU, without useless rivalries”

The words of French finance minister Bruno Le Maire, on who the future head of the International Monetary Fund should be. The consensus among European finance ministers is that the successor to French Christine Lagarde who is nominated to take over the European Central Bank should be from Europe. Historically, the Managing Director of the IMF has always been European (the president being from the US) and in 5 cases out of the 11 so far they have been French. No post-colonial remnants to see here.

5. Video of the Week

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