Frans Timmermans urged to step down during Commission presidency campaign

Written by Martin Banks on 18 January 2019 in News
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European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans has been urged to step down as a commissioner while he campaigns for the presidency of the executive.

Photo Credit: European Parliament Audiovisual


The demand was made this week by Esteban González Pons, a deputy leader of the EPP, the second biggest political grouping in parliament.

The Spanish MEP was, he said, responding to a tweet last Friday by Timmermans about recent elections in the Spanish region of Andalusia.

After 36 years, the southern region will be led by a conservative government, supported by far-right party Vox, which has entered Spain’s institutions for the first time.


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The election proved devastating for the ruling PSOE, which won the highest number of seats but lost its absolute majority and the chance to form a government.

After 36 years of uninterrupted Socialist Party (PSOE) rule in Andalusia, a long era has come to an end in Spain’s most-populous region (8.4 million), which had also been a prime constituency for the PSOE.

Responding to the outcome of the election, Timmermans, a Dutch-born EU commissioner, sent a tweet on 11 January.

It read, “In Andalusia, PP and Ciudadanos will govern with the support of an extreme right party that rejects fundamental European values. Is this what the EPP has in store for Europe?”

“It seems Mr Timmermans also forgets that he is still Commission Vice President … If he is going to be in campaign mode from now on, attacking regional governments only for political purposes, he cannot stay one more day as Vice President” Esteban González Pons MEP

Another tweet on the same day read, “Let me be clear: our party will never form a coalition with the extreme right in Europe. This I guarantee.”

Timmermans is the commissioner for better regulation, interinstitutional affairs, migration, home affairs and citizenship.

He launched his candidacy as the Socialist lead candidate for the commission presidency in Lisbon in December.

Timmermans, the first vice president of the commission, will be the Party of European Socialists' Spitzenkandidat in the upcoming European elections in May.

‘INSTITUTIONAL RESPECT’

His remarks about the Spanish regional election have been condemned by González Pons, who told a news conference in Parliament this week that Timmermans should stand down as a commissioner “if he continues to make such political interventions.”

The MEP told reporters that Timmermans “should have some institutional respect and to speak as vice president of the commission rather than as S&D Spitzenkandidaten.”

“He can't mix the two roles because if he does that we are facing a conflict of interest and he should resign from his portfolio. He cannot be the political commissioner on the one hand and make political judgements on the other.”

González Pons added, “It seems Mr Timmermans also forgets that he is still commission vice president. He should show a bit more respect for his office. If he is going to be in campaign mode from now on, attacking regional governments only for political purposes, he cannot stay one more day as vice president.”

On Thursday, this website asked Timmermans and the commission to comment but was referred, instead, to remarks by his commission colleague, Pierre Moscovici, at a recent press conference.

Moscovici, who is in charge of the financial affairs dossier, said, “We live in a democracy and you have to remember that EU commissioners are also politicians who have personal views and convictions. They are free to express these views and not just via twitter.”

“This is all about freedom of expression.”

The French official pointed out that commission president Jean-Claude Juncker had previously authorised that EU commissioners be able to continue to remain in office even if they were also a candidate in an election, as Timmermans is now.

In order to ensure that this was done in an “appropriate” way, the protocol was subject to certain rules and regulations, said Moscovici.

He told the news conference, “We want to protect both the EU institutions and democracy. But if we start accusing him [Timmermans] of ulterior motives we will never get out of that situation.”

DEMOCRACY, FAIRNESS AND EQUALITY

Timmermans’ candidacy is backed by PES president Sergei Stanishev, who said the party was “standing behind” him, adding, “Frans has fought for democracy, fairness and equality his entire political career. He is a committed fighter for a just and social Europe and a formidable campaigner - he is the right person to lead our family, and the right choice for the next president of the commission.”

According to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU’s national leaders will meet following the election in May to propose a candidate to Parliament, “taking into account” the results of the European election. Under the Spitzenkandidaten process, each party in the European Parliament puts forward a nominee, who campaigns alongside its candidates in May’s election.

The contender belonging to the party that gets the most votes is recommended to Parliament for confirmation as commission president — although EU leaders have made clear they will not be bound by the process.

The EPP has put forward its own Spitzenkandidaten: German MEP Manfred Weber, who currently leads the EPP grouping in parliament, the biggest in the assembly.

He has launched a high-profile campaign which has taken him on a European “tour” and is increasingly seen as a serious contender to replace Juncker after May.

However, a Socialist source in parliament said, “Weber has not faced any calls for him to stand aside as an MEP even though he is the party’s lead candidate for the commission presidency. It seems a bit hypocritical to call for Timmermans to stand down when Weber is coming under no such pressure.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at The Parliament Magazine

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