A ridiculous and untrustworthy European Commission. Ursula von der Leyen’s compromises regarding the rule of law and European values
The total surrender by the president-elect of the European Commission to the Visegrad group’s political blackmail, the proposal of many commissioners who have major integrity related problems, the ridiculous populism of some portfolio denominations – all indicate a political failure at the top of the European construction.
NB: this renunciation of fundamental EU principles comes at the end of an European election process which included record – high participation, in which tens of millions of European citizens have rejected populism and voted massively to give the Union a chance. A chance that, once wasted, will fuel the Eurosceptic discourse with arguments provided by Brussels itself, this time.
The big integrity problems in the Ursula Commission
For a European Commission that claims to have heard the voice of citizens in the European Parliament elections in May, the number of commissioners with integrity issues is huge.Their number is not the only issue of contention, but also their portfolios.
- Janusz Wojciechowski (Poland). The Commissioner for Agriculture is being investigated by OLAF, the EU anti-fraud office, for „irregularities in spending money from the European budget to cover travel costs”. Wojciechowski, a member of the ruling party with harsh anti-EU accents, had several MEP mandates, being even a member of the Committee on Agriculture, and is now a member of the European Court of Auditors.
- Sylvie Goulard (France). Proposed European Commissioner for the Internal Market, she was heard on Tuesday, when Ursula von der Leyen announced her nomination, in a file on fictitious employment. As a MEP from the Modem center party in the period 2009-2017, she is accused by the French Judicial Police of having hired people from the party in the MEP’s cabinet. As a result of the scandal, in 2017, she resigned after only three months as defense minister in the French government led by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.
- Rovana Plumb (Romania). Plumb was nominated as Commissioner for Transports. She was charged by DNA with complicity for abuse of office in the Belina case, but escaped the investigation after her colleagues in the Chamber of Deputies rejected the DNA request for criminal prosecution. She thanked the deputies for defending the „principles of the rule of law”.
- Laszlo Trocsanyi (Hungary). Former Commissioner for Neighborhood and Enlargement, former Justice Minister in Viktor Orban’s government, he is accused of taking measures that have affected the independence of justice, hit directly at NGOs and led Hungary in the situation of being menaced by the European Parliament with triggering Article 7 (the nuclear option) for the violation of the fundamental principles of the rule of law.
- Vera Jourova (Czech Republic). Proposed as vice-president, with the portfolio „Values and Transparency”, Jourova is a close ally of Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis, famous for his attacks on the EU. Jourova herself was the protagonist of a judicial scandal, being accused in 2006 of taking bribes to facilitate a contract with EU funds. She spent a month in pre-trial detention, but eventually the prosecutors withdrew their charges in 2008 and she was completely relieved of the charges.
A painful political surrender
Ursula von der Leyen gave in completely to the political blackmail exercised by the Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orban, on whose votes in the European Parliament depended the validation of the newly elected President of the European Commission. As a result, von der Leyen attributed to Hungary exactly the portfolio that Orban wanted,the Neighborhood and Enlargement one.
This is an essential position in Prime Minister Orban’s plans, who wants to project in his neighborhood an illiberal and anti-European policy. It is outrageous that this portfolio is given to a government that has raised barbed wire on its borders, which for years have been trampling European values.
How will European values such as the rule of law and the independence of justice be promoted by a man who, as Minister of Justice, has acted against these fundamental principles ? How will a good government representative talk about the good neighborliness that constantly spreads dissension with his neighbors, exacerbates minor problems between the neighbors and hinders Ukraine’s access in NATO or Romania’s in the OECD?
Ursula von der Leyen relented not just in front of the Hungarian government. The entire Visegrad group, which negotiated extremely hard for the investiture votes, received the required portfolios and management positions, despite the frequent challenge to EU values in the four V4 countries.
The acceptance of Rovana Plumb for the Transport portfolio is part of the same register, as the Romanian candidate has no connection with the field. But it mattered that PSD, a large group inside S&D, quickly announced the support for the vote for Ursula von der Leyen.
Equally difficult to understand is the appointment of the Dutch Frans Timmermans as chief over the „green” portfolio, given that the Netherlands is among the Member States that will not achieve their 2020 de-carbonisation targets.
The portfolios themselves became subject of bitter irony on Brussels corridors and in European capitals. Names like „European Green Deal” or „Protecting our European Way of Life” stir up continuous irony. Trying to show that she is close to citizens, Ursula von der Leyen invented portfolios with populist names.
„Protecting our European Way of Life” means fighting with the gun in hand for the right to hit Greek beaches ?, asks a bemused internet user on Twitter, while the obsessive appeal to ecology and environmental protection is viewed with concern because of the growing impact on the competitiveness of European industry.
How are these failures to be explained? Ursula von der Leyen had the worst negotiation possible because the current European Parliament is the most fragmented European legislature. In order to secure a majority in the summer vote, von der Leyen had to reconcile four large political families, an then balance on different axes: North vs. South, East vs. West, women / men. In addition to this, there were France and Germany’s huge interests – pressures from different industries and also the demands coming from green NGOs.
For Ursula von der Leyen, the hardest part follows: the hearings in the European Parliament committees and the plenary vote. Herewe we shall see if all the compromises made, some more painful than others, were worth it. Until then, we remain with the bitter taste of a commission chairman who has accepted the lowest standards of professionalism and integrity.
Traducerea: Ruxandra Stoicescu
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