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The #Wonderleyen Edition

18 July 2019

1. Story of the Week

What happened?

Rather than being the face that launched a thousand ships, Ursula von der Leyen (VDL) was the candidate that secured 383 votes. The 60-year-old candidate for European Commission President nominated a mere two weeks ago by unanimity of 28 member states, this week got approved by the European Parliament with a far from stellar mandate. As she entered the plenary in Strasbourg on Tuesday morning she was gunning to pass the 374 vote threshold that would confirm her nomination and it was clear her strategy was to woo over some of the more progressive MEPs that were skeptical of her candidacy. A green new deal in first 100 days, no compromise on rule of law and a new EU wide rule of law mechanism, a new pact on migration and asylum, an extension of Brexit, and a gender-equal commission were among the strong flavours on the menu she presented, all laced with a strong far-right rebuke by clearly calling out Identity and Democracy MEPs particularly stating that she did not want their vote. A mixture of the largely nominal promises made during the speech (nothing on how these would work in practice) and the threat of ruining their summer holidays, motivated MEPs to vote her through. Having resigned her role as German Defence Minister the night before, VDL will now take over from reigning champion, and only spitzenkandidat in history, Jean-Claude Juncker in November.

Why it matters

No one is immune to sweet talk, and VDL offered up plenty of sugar to get through the line. The question is whether she can parse the widely divergent interests that are represented within the Parliament as well as between member states in order to keep the Union alive. What sounds sweet to Liberals re: migration is not at all palatable to the right-wing, even in her own party for example. Similarly, what should be rudimentary measures to tackle climate change is a red line for certain member states (think Poland and its reliance on the coal industry). Offering all things to all men might be impossible as we highlighted last week But the fact that she has gotten through the goalline means that she is an ideal candidate of a broken system as we highlighted two weeks ago. Cassandra complex aside, what this result identifies is the complexity that is in store for the next five years. As the EU and its public is battered by the dangerous simplism of populism and nationalism, selling complexity may prove as hard as selling volcano insurance.

The takeaway

Ironically, the killing of the spitzenkandidaten process has produced a Commission president that is possibly the most likely in history to be prone to ‘parliamentary capture’. Having such a slim and fragmented majority means that ‘she owes the EP one’ see e.g. the Greens who have already put in an order for 4 Commissioners of their own for their collaboration. This will have to translate to many favours to supporting and non-supporting factions whoever they may be. However, mature minds in the EU know that the largely wide-eyed optimism of the newly elected European Parliament is short-lived. Those that think that VDL will be a ‘Manchurian candidate’ of the parliament will be sorely disappointed. Being the servant of many masterscan be a good thing as it guarantees a level of effort that is unprecedented in European politics and in many cases national politics. But it is a perfect recipe for disappointment if you don’t deliver. VDL is the perfect candidate of an imperfect system and her success will depend on compromise between increasingly uncompromising factions.

2. Tweets of the Week

3. Numbers of the Week


The year by which Galileo, the European Union’s Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) will be completed. That is if it survives. The system made up of 22 satellites suffered a major outage that has lasted for almost a week now. The system is designed to be the European alternative to lessen the dependence on the US’ GPS and Russia’s GNASS system. Ironically it was on the latter that European smartphones and other devices have been running during the outage. Russians are notoriously good at navigating whether it be to space or political landscapes in foreign countries…


The height in metres of the proposed new European Commission buildingin Brussels. The ‘Tour De Midi’ will be part of a new complex for the Commission in Brussels’s European Quarter and construction will start a long way away in 2025. However, local pressure groups are already criticising the complex citing a dissonance between the Commission’s intentions and integration with the local environment. Let’s just hope they get this one right after the Berlaymont asbestos debacle.


The number of suspects that have been charged with the murder of the Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. The anti-corruption journalist died after a bomb was detonated by mobile phone as she got into her car on 16 October 2017. The murder raised questions on rule of law in Malta and there have been calls from several international organisations as well as her family for the investigation to be more thorough than it has been. The EU, meanwhile, has only gone as far as naming a press room in the European Parliament in Strasbourg in her name.

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4. Quotes of the Week

“There is real urgency for Europe to reaffirm its unique raison d’être.”

The introduction of an open letter from the co-chairs of the Global Future Council on Europe to European leaders. The Council which forms part of the World Economic Forum listed five areas where European leaders should focus their priorities in light of the new European Commission. The letter is a summary of the New Manifesto for Europe that the Forum has published in June.

“I think a no-deal is underpriced.”

The words of UK Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay. The minister of Theresa May’s outgoing government (due to stand down next week was in Brussels on Wednesday) trying to salvage the remains of the Withdrawal Agreement. Former US President Lyndon Johnson said that the first rule of politics was to learn how to count, and, in the scheme of numbers, the outgoing Prime Minister’s agreement is null and void. The target now is to avoid the damage likely to be caused by her successor, who, be it Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, will pursue a more aggressive no-deal route.

“We need to build a Europe that is democratic, compassionate and gifted with an enlivened democratic mandate.”

The rallying cry from newly elected Green millennial MEP, Magid Magid, on the state of Europe. Commenting on his first two weeks as an MEP, the 30 year old former Mayor of Sheffield and media personality relates on how he has been disappointed by the elitism and bureaucracy in his first impressions of Brussels and also goes into his experience of being a racial minority in a parliament where only 30 of 751 are people of colour.

5. Video of the Week

A Day in the Life of an EU citizen | Watch all 28 videos here

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