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Von der Leyen 'ready' to back Brexit delay in pitch to MEPs for European Commission president bid

MEPs will vote today on whether to elect the German defence minister to the European Commission top job.

Ursula von der Leyen addressing European parliamentarians
Ursula von der Leyen addressing European parliamentarians
Image: Michael Kappeler DPA/PA Images

Updated Jul 16th 2019, 9:33 AM

GERMAN DEFENCE MINISTER Ursula von der Leyen, the nominee to become the new President of the European Commission, has pledged a “green deal” for Europe and said she’d back a Brexit delay if necessary as she stood before MEPs to seek their support to replace Jean-Claude Juncker today. 

“I will put forward a green deal for Europe in my first 100 days in office. I will put forward the first ever European climate law which will set the 2050 target in law,” von der Leyen told the European Parliament. 

Von der Leyen pledged the EU will “lead international ambition” on fighting climate change when she delivered a speech to the assembly in Strasbourg, France, which is to vote on her nomination later today.

She said the EU must go beyond its 2030 goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent, compared to 1990 levels, if it is to produce zero net emission by 2050. That goal was set under the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

The German defence minister also said she is prepared to extend Britain’s exit from the EU beyond the October 31 deadline if necessary.

“I stand ready for further extension of the withdrawal date should more time be required for a good reason,” von der Leyen told a confirmation hearing in the European Parliament.

Her remarks triggered howls of derision from pro-Brexit members of the European Parliament.

France EU Brexit Party MEP Nigel Farage speaking in parliament this morning Source: Jean-Francois Badias/PA Images

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Von der Leyen has had just two weeks to make her case since the leaders declared her the nominee after a tense three-day summit, casting aside candidates backed by parliament.

But she has responded with a series of written promises to the main centre-right, socialist and liberal blocs that she hopes will get her the necessary 374 votes.

She announced yesterday that she would step down from Angela Merkel’s German government this week whatever happens in the vote, underlining her European ambitions.

The three main mainstream groups are expected to back her, but the Greens and the far-left will not, and the vote is a secret ballot that could contain surprises.

The former Luxembourg premier received 422 endorsements.

The vote is scheduled to begin in the Strasbourg assembly at 6pm (4pm Irish time) and the result announced around one-and-a-half to two hours later.

The new head of the European Commission is due to take power on 1 November, immediately after the latest deadline for Britain’s departure from the bloc.

Frenetic horse-trading 

Under the EU Treaty, the head of the commission is nominated by member state leaders, if necessary by a qualified majority vote.

However, many in parliament and in the Brussels EU institutions wanted the 28 heads of government to choose one of the parliamentary groups’ lead candidates.

Instead, they cast aside those names and – after intense closed-door negotiations – chose to call on von der Leyen.

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French President Emmanuel Macron had insisted on the leaders’ prerogative to choose, and Germany’s Angela Merkel was happy to find a role for an ally.

The biggest single group, her and Merkel’s conservative European People’s Party (EPP), will back her, despite seeing their parliamentary leader Manfred Weber cast aside.   

But the centre-right’s 182 votes will not be enough by themselves, and the socialist S&D with 154 members and the liberal Renew Europe’s 108 are unconvinced.

The Greens, meanwhile, say she will not get their 74 votes, and the hard-left GUE/NGL will also withhold their 41. 

The far-right Identity and Democracy, which includes Italy’s League, France’s National Rally and Germany’s AFD, says it is “unlikely” they will back Merkel’s ally.

Which leaves the right-wing eurosceptic ECR, weakened by the loss of many British Tories but still 62-strong thanks mainly to Poland’s PiS governing party.

The ECR has promised to be “pragmatic” and concerned officials admit it might be members hostile to closer EU integration that get von der Leyen over the line.

Includes reporting by - © AFP 2019

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