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Wed 17 July 2019
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Arnold le Goeuil on how women are rising in power, but German conservatives are consolidating their power in Brussels.

The football transfer market, which started on 11 June, has been replaced by another transfer market, no less important: that of the European institutions.

A month of tense negotiations, shenanigans and power struggles between Europe’s main powers have resulted in a halfway result. 

EU leaders have finally agreed on the composition of the main EU institutions. German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU – EPP) will be President of the Commission, IMF Director Christine Lagarde (EPP) will take the presidency of the ECB, Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel (ALDE) the presidency of the European Council and Josep Borrell Fontelles (PSOE – S&D) will be the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.


A First Positive Step – More Women in Power

In the wake of #MeToo and years of a greater presence of women in the public sphere, the wave has eventually hit the European Union. It took a long time, but here we are with our first female President of the European Commission.

Ursula von der Leyen, CDU, German Defence Minister will be the first woman to hold this office, succeeding to Jean-Claude Juncker. A close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, she was due to succeed her before Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer took over in 2018. With a short career – she started in 2005 – but not less meteoric rise, this moderate, calm and respected politician should fit well into theEU institutions.

Alas, the other hopes which emerged in May with the changes in in the European Parliament have not been translated into a concrete result.

On the economic side, Christine Lagarde, a respected and popular director of the IMF, inherit the European Central Bank. She had to deal with the ECB during her two terms in the IMF, including the 2011 Greek crisis, difficulties with China stock exchange place in the summer 2015 and the continuous decrease of oil barrel since 2013 prices is now about to take on the EU growth…or on the EU inflation rate.

Former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde speaking in 2019

A former conservative Finances minister under French President Nicolas Sarkozy, she has surprised everybody turning out to be (a bit) more progressive than what the institution would demand, taking on income inequalities, climate change, and human rights. Can she continue to do so in the most rigid and dogmatic of all EU institutions? It seems unlikely.

Appointing two experienced and moderate women at EU top jobs is a first step in the right direction. Alas, the other hopes which emerged in May with the changes in in the European Parliament have not been translated into a concrete result. 


The European Centre-Right still holds the Balance

Despite major losses (around 40 MEPs), the European Popular Party is still holding top positions in the EU since both von der Leyen (CDU) and Lagarde (ex-UMP) come from centre-right backgrounds.

Although moderate, both women in their new leadership roles don’t represent the change that hit Strasbourg in May with both major parties losing their overall majority: with liberals and Greens on the rise, and the divisions inside a bigger Eurosceptic and nationalist wing.

Looking at the picture of this new composition, it reminds us all what a great philosopher once said: ‘nothing has changed.’

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Liberals will get their way with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel replacing Donald Tusk, although this doesn’t represent their recent success – proving that the electoral results in the European Parliament often little impact on the ultimate makeup of the main institutions.

For the centre-left, the let down is palpable: a Spanish social democrat, Josep Borrell Fontelles will get the job of High Representative for Foreign Affairs – not a lot considering the poor and divided leadership the European Union offers to the world.

As for the Greens, they obtained nothing. A major disappointment but not necessarily sign of inaction on climate change in the next European policies.


German Conservatives Concede EBS to Macron Liberals

This overall result may surprise some. Firstly because many of top pretenders were all eliminated from the ticket.

Out went Manfred Weber (CDU), EPP leader. Out went Michel Barnier, EU chief negotiator on Brexit. Out went Margrethe Vestager, the popular EU Commissioner to Competition.

Ultimately, Paris and Berlin agreed to put a German conservative in charge of the EU Commission, signalling a symbolic victory for Merkel who has secured and consolidated the German presence in Brussels.

With Weber eliminated, the Spitzenkandidaten system – which means that the leader of the first party in the European Parliament would naturally become President of the Commission- is now over. This was Macron’s demand to make sure a liberal would have a top position.

Ultimately, Paris and Berlin agreed to put a German conservative in charge of the EU Commission, signalling a symbolic victory for Merkel who has secured and consolidated the German presence in Brussels.

But she had to concede the ECB to Macron. An interesting tactical choice for Germany who used to be on pool position on the economy, letting France hande the political aspect but ultimately blocking any reform through EU economic institutions.

The ECB in Frankfurt has been created and seized for German economic power: promoting competition, ending public-held companies and fighting inflation – a result of 1930’s German trauma. But at a time of a decreased growth all around Europe – even German growth has naturally decreased –  the ECB should take more on unemployment rather than being dogmatically focused on the inflation growth, boosting public spending and taking on inequalities and climate change.

To sum up: the ECB needs to change, but it’s not certain Mrs Lagarde will be able to implement it.

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