Ted Malloch: Von der Leyen Is the Last Gasp of European Federalism
Guest post by Ted Malloch
That’s the margin by which Ursula Von der Leyen (VDL), most recently the unsuccessful Defense Minister of Germany, became the President-Elect of the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union’s two-headed administration.
She will act as the Head of Government for the aspirational non-state that the EU currently embodies. The Head of State will be Charles Michel, a formerly almost unknown PM of so-powerful Belgium.
Palace intrigue dominated the undemocratic selection process.
Macron wanted francophones.
Merkel wanted one of her own and her supposed heir apparent before she was dumped.
The Brussels aristocracy wanted to impose a presidential candidate selected by the European Parliament’s political parties during the election in May 2019.
Falling into line, the European Socialists came to the aid of the Centre-right’s U-turn on their own presidential candidate, Manfred Weber, another German who took one for the team.
The centrist liberals, led by Macron’s own forces, also voted in lockstep as expected. Poland’s government actually pushed the unappreciated candidate who is scandal ridden over the finish line. She even plagiarized her PhD thesis and got away with it!
Par for the course. It is the EU after all.
More surprising was the support of the Greens, traditionally in opposition to the centrist establishment.
Their performance in the election surprised everyone.
That they would so quickly turn their backs on their historical environmental stances confirms the suspicions of many Eurosceptics – supposedly left, supposedly environmentalist, they voted in a centre-right figure with no bona fides on either count. Lacking a Green head of State in the European Council, they were, as the old saw goes, not at the table, therefore on the menu.
Of all the votes that put VDL in power, none were more unexpected than the ECR.
The European Conservatives and Reformists, formed by British PM David Cameron after the 2014 edition of this electoral contest, was mainly composed of the heavily Eurosceptic Polish PiS party and the British Conservatives, along with a number of other similar parties. The Tory wipeout in 2019 (losing all but 4 seats, including the ECR leader, Syed Kamall of London) was probably a factor in the decision to enthrone VDL.
That the ECR would swing the election for the EPP, the party they all left in 2014, is disgraceful.
Blocking VDL would have been a victory for Eurosceptics of all stripes. Enforcing the much-maligned spitzenkandidat process would have also made the EU a little more democratic, which it desperately needs. It was, after all, an idea of one of the great European Federalists (the opposite of a Eurosceptic) Martin Schulz, himself a spitzenkandidat for the socialists in both 2014.
The prospect of an alliance of Eurosceptics and federalists was quashed with the lashings of parliamentary whips and patronage, the smokiest of smoke-filled back rooms.
ECR had put forward their own presidential candidate – Jan Zahradil, a Czech.
Like Weber, Zahradil had no executive experience – but then, VDL hasn’t been Chancellor of Germany either.
ECR shied away from coalescing with the political parties to its right. Had it had more courage, it would have assembled a group large enough to surpass the centre-right EPP – becoming the largest group, with the first dibs on the presidency of the European Commission.
Instead, Nigel Farage’s massive victory in the UK – becoming the largest party in the European Parliament – was wasted on the non-aligned independent group, a mishmash of rejects that doesn’t fit into any of the serious parties.
The notion that the Eurosceptics could have forced the 500-odd other MEPs to vote for Zahradil is pure fantasy.
But by playing by the rules of the centrists, the railroading through of VDL would have been a much costlier operation. Already tying themselves in knots to double back from their spitzenkandidats, the centre’s self-serving, hypocritical nature would have been bared for all to see.
Blocking her would have thrown a spanner in the works and forced the center to reconsider much of their received wisdom. As things stand, the center has taken the result of the election as a green light to continue with — business as usual.
One can only imagine the seething rage that Manfred Weber, having dodged these many bullets – second place in Germany, the prospect of a Eurosceptic party larger than his – still not getting the spot he campaigned for. One might almost invite him to the Eurosceptic parties!
So, what can we expect from VDL?
She’s allowed a dyed-in-the-wool socialist, Josep Borrel, to run the EU’s foreign policy. An old-school, anti-imperialist, anti-Israel, pro-Chavista leftie, one is almost reassured that the embryonic European foreign policy establishment has yet to show any teeth.
The presidency of the EU parliament, another of the great plum posts, will go to an Italian socialist, (even though his own country doesn’t want him) with the attending consequences for European legislation.
Having been Germany’s weak Defense Minister since 2014, with the responsibility to implement the NATO commitment from Wales – extracted by President Obama and more than supported by President Trump – that NATO allies would spend 2% of their GDP on defense, VDL has shown very little mettle in delivering these priorities.
German defense spending remains at 1.2% of GDP, where it was when she assumed leadership of the armed forces of the Bundesrepublik. Her predilections appear to be more for a redundant EU army than the survival of NATO.
In other words, she wasn’t a head of state, she wasn’t a candidate, and her record isn’t any indication of competence, skill or courage.
Shed a tear for Europe.
Nobody has their act together.
Not the center, not the Eurosceptics, not even the much-celebrated Greens.
With a political class like this, is it any surprise the place is literally coming apart at the seams?
Is it any surprise that Trump has completely dismissed them?