Despite strong differences of opinion within the Socialist group, the majority of S&D MEPs ended up backing Ursula von der Leyen’s bid to become the next European Commission President, thanks primarily to her commitments to deliver a progressive policy agenda.
That was the message delivered by the S&D leader in the European Parliament Iratxe García at a press event on Wednesday, following von der Leyen’s election by MEPs on Tuesday evening in Strasbourg.
García said her grouping of 154 MEPs, the second largest political group in the European Parliament, had been crucial in ensuring von der Leyen was elected with a pro-European majority.
“Our group was key to the election of Ursula von der Leyen and we’ll make sure we are at the forefront in setting the agenda of the next European Commission”, said García, adding, “Although we don’t hold a majority in the European Parliament, we used our political influence to spearhead change in her agenda.”
She explained that the majority of her group were able to support the German centre-right’s bid because of the commitments von der Leyen had made on key Socialist concerns regarding sustainability, gender equality, social rights, economic flexibility and migration.
The new President-elect of the European Commission had, through her detailed letter on Monday responding to Socialist concerns and the further fleshing out of her commitments during an extensive plenary debate on Tuesday, “made changes that were sufficient to sway us”, explained García.
However, several national contingents refused to comply with the group position, voting against or abstaining on von der Leyen’s bid.
“Our group was key to the election of Ursula von der Leyen and we’ll make sure we are at the forefront in setting the agenda of the next European Commission” Iratxe García, S&D leader
Many Socialist MEPs are still angry about the decision by EU Member States not to put forward one of the Parliament-approved Spitzenkandidaten as Commission President and are also unhappy with the way national governments vetoed the socialist Spitzenkandidat Frans Timmermans.
The Dutchman was rejected thanks in part to his vigorous pursuit of Member States breaching EU rule of law legislation.
Several national delegations within the Socialist group have concerns over von der Leyen’s commitment to continue pursuing the offending governments, all of which are linked to von der Leyen’s centre-right EPP political grouping.
It’s also understood that the 16-strong German Socialist delegation also refused to back von der Leyen’s bid.
However, García argued, “during an important period for our political family, for the European Parliament and for Europe, I believe our group shouldered its responsibilities.”
“There were some in our Group who couldn’t support this decision, and I understand that. Despite the fact that there were differences of opinion on the appointment of von der Leyen, we stand united when it comes to our progressive agenda for the future of Europe.”
“We also made it clear that Frans Timmermans should be given a strong political post in the new Commission. I promise you that he will play a key political role.”
She told reporters that “All of us are here in politics to solve problems not create them” and that she had entered into discussions with Ursula von der Leyen in the spirit of cooperation and with a sense of trust and belief.
García concluded, “Her agenda is clearly progressive and we were very satisfied with what we heard. But we will ensure that the undertakings the new President-elect has made are turned into real change.”
“We will be watching and scrutinising the new European Commission very closely.”