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Ursula von der Leyen, Renew, and the battle for EU leadership
Will Ursula von der Leyen find an unexpected ally in Renew Europe, or could Thierry Breton's bid for the European Commission presidency complicate her chances of a second mandate?
I attended this weekend the Summer campus of Renaissance, Emmanuel Macron’s party.
The main guest on the plenary session was no other that European COmmission ¨resodent Ursula von der Leyen. Although not from the same political family than the host organisation, she nonetheless delivered a keynote speech on the achievement of the EU during her mandate.
The welcome she received from the room made me realise something. If von der Leyen is sometimes criticised by the EPP for her ambitious Green agenda, she could find in Macron and Renew an unexpected ally for ensuring another five years at the head of the European executive. Unless…
Unless a Frenchman from the liberal family bids to replace her.
Why Ursula von der Leyen has Renew’s support
As I wrote in the introduction, the centrist activists gave the European Commission President a very warm welcome.
Has she stepped on stage, she received a long-standing ovation, perhaps longer than any other guest speaker that day. One could argue that her status as “President of the EU” calls for such reverence. But in a country where politicians from other political families are an easy target for scorn, this ovation was special. Therefore, I’d like to venture a different opinion.
After the European elections of 2019, Manfred Weber of the EPP was expected to become the next President of the European Commission. But his profile did not suit Emmanuel Macron, who quickly proposed an alternative from Weber’s political family. We all know what happened next: Weber grew a beard.
Ursula von der Leyen proposed an ambitious agenda. The Green Deal, a geopolitical Commission, strengthened the rule of law in Europe, etc. These political endeavours, encouraged by forward-looking EU leaders and facilitated by the increased powers of the Greens and Renew, dig a gap between von der Leyen and the EPP.
Fast forward to today. The EPP campaigned against the Nature Restauration Law, ponders an alliance with the ECR, and Manfred Weber is still sour. Meanwhile, Ursula von der Leyen can count on Macron’s support, Renew Europe’s efforts carried her agenda to completion.
Isn’t her natural ally more the liberals than the Christian democrats?
I think the activists of Renaissance understood it well this weekend. Ursula von der Leyen is someone who is closer to their idea of Europe than she is from Weber’s EPP. Hence the ovation.
A new contender enters the ring
And I was here, pondering if von der Leyen could get Renew’s official support from Renaissance and Renew to run for a second mandate when Thiery Breton came on stage.
The European Commissioner delivered, in his own style, the same speech as von der Leyen: We did this, then we did that, and also this. But while the President of the Commission was very high-level and positive, Breton was technical and combative. As if he wanted to give the impression that he alone, despite the opposition from the College, built Europe to where it is now.
And while I don’t want to deny it of any merit—I do believe he did an incredible job—it was not hard to see that he tried to overshadow his boss.
A few weeks back, POLITICO hinted at the possibility for Breton to head the liberal campaign for the European elections in France. If that’s the case, it would put him in a spitzenkandidat position, wouldn’t it?
And isn’t the spitzenkandidat supposed to take over the job of the European Commission president?
This weekend was Thierry Breton's attempt at securing his bid to the top of the Commission. Did he succeed? We’ll find out in the coming months.
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