10 July 2019. Meeting of the European People’s Party in the European Parliament in Brussels. Main theme: meeting with Ursula von der Leyen, candidate for the presidency of the European Commission. The meeting is closed, after the meeting there is a statement that the EPP “fully” supports von der Leyen. After meeting the candidate, Manfred Weber, the EPP leader, leads the internal discussion about the political situation in the European Parliament. He talks about cooperation with ECR, which comprises the Polish governmental party Law and Justice (PiS). Mr Weber expresses the need to “stand by” ECR candidates for the positions in the Parliament, most notably for Ms Beata Szydło, who is a candidate for chairwoman of the employment and social affairs committee (EMPL).
The Weber’s speech is met with said enthusiasm of Fidesz, the Hungarian governmental party whose politicians sit with the EPP. Fidesz and PiS have the same problem: they are accused of rule of law violation in Hungary and Poland, respectively. The EU treaties’ Article 7 procedure has been launched against both states.
Due to the rule of law situation Fidesz faces EPP exclusion, though this issue is no longer on top of the EPP agenda (at least until November). The agenda is currently dominated by the left-leaning groups in the Parliament.
I talk with a lamenting EPP MEP who says that Weber words of “standing by” were deeply disappointing. Another EPP MEP tells me about a nuance: Weber words were about “standing by the d’Hondt method of distribution of seats”. A person close to Mr Weber tells me that he would defend the GUE candidates too, in light of an upcoming cordon sanitaire against the Polish ECR candidates.
Still, it hurts to hear the positive conciliatory words about a candidate, Ms Szydło, whose government was deeply unpopular with the Polish EPP MEPs for actions such as violating Polish constitution and disempowering the Polish Constitutional Tribunal by not publishing its verdicts, overseeing the removing EU flags from governmental buildings, etc. Now she is a candidate for the EMPL chair and Mr Weber says that EPP should “stand by”.
Mr Radan Kanev, a EPP MEP from Bulgaria, speaks to a sister blog. He says “This is causing tensions among the Polish MEPs who are part of the European People’s Party, but also among other colleagues. It is quite obvious that there is tension even when it comes to personal contacts between MEPs”.
What does it mean for Ursula von der Leyen?
Mr Weber’s commitment to d’Hondt is not only a commitment to high political standards. This is him trying to extend the chances for Ms von der Leyen on the Tuesday late confirmation vote. She needs over 374 votes, since some of MEPs did not take their mandates (Catalans) and a Danish new MEP Jeppe Kofod has been appointed a new foreign minister in Denmark.
Does this mean Mr Weber abandoned his narrative from a few weeks ago? In the campaign ahead of 26 May, he said that if he became the president of the Commission, he would not like to cooperate with PiS. Swedish or Dutch MEPs said that Fidesz’s presence in the EPP deprives them of votes in their countries. From within Mr Weber’s entourage I hear that “there is a difference between campaigning for yourselves and for von der Leyen”. The Commission President vote is nevertheless related to the votes of last week.
Six groups agreed on the cordon sanitaire for the candidates of the far-right parties grouped in Identity and Democracy (ID). Weber apparently was asking other groups to make sure if someone else was “still problematic” ahead of the vote. Apparently the Greens, RE, GUE and S&D said nothing, apart from ID there was no other problematic chair. Then on Tuesday, 9 July Dacian Ciolos, the leader of RE, tweets:
Hence the Weber words of “standing by” are related to the d’Hondt and not joining the Renew Europe and others in voting down the PiS and Fidesz candidates. Sometimes the “defence” is successful as three PiS committee vice-chairs are voted through. The most visibly, however, the PiS chairwoman candidate is defeated.
Following this defeat and the previous week’s EP vice-presidency defeat of Mr Krasnodębski, Law and Justice is offended. They send signals they will not vote for von der Leyen despite PM Morawiecki’s support for the German candidate at the beginning of the month. PiS is disillusioned, cornered and does not want to engage to build trust with other groups. To the extend that the CDU sends emissaries to Poland to talk directly to the PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński on Sunday, 14 July, as the PiS chairman revealed.
Mr Weber’s job is to guarantee a safe passage for Ms von der Leyen. The two are ready to go the whole distance. Ms von der Leyen did not meet the ID group, even if the support of La Lega is not completely out of question (Mr Conte voted ‘yes’ for von der Leyen in the European Council). Yet Ms von der Leyen met with M5S, the Five Star Movement, which seats with the non-attached members:
Win-win or lose-lose?
It may well be that some EPP MEPs, including certain Polish MEPs, will not vote for Ms von der Leyen because of her and Mr Weber reaching out to ECR.
It may well be that ECR MEPs will not vote for Ms von der Leyen because they’ve been humiliated twice in the European Parliament over last two weeks.
Or, it may well be that both Polish EPP MEPs and Polish ECR MEPs vote for Ms von der Leyen. This could be possible if by tomorrow Ms von der Leyen strongly holds the ground on the rule of law defence against the governments in Warsaw and Budapest, and at the same time there is a deal that in the following week Ms Szydło is voted through at the next EMPL meeting.
I worry, however, that CDU representatives could not guarantee to Ms Jarosław Kaczyński that Ms Szydło is voted through in EMPL by the end of next week. Maybe a compromise agreement was found for another ECR candidate in the committee?
Tomorrow’s vote is secret.