Germany's Ursula von der Leyen smiles as she delivers her speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, Tuesday July 16, 2019. Ursula von der Leyen outlined her vision and plans as Commission President. The vote, held by secret paper ballot, will take place later today. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Von der Leyen seeks to secure EU top job at parliament

July 16, 2019 - 2:53 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — Outgoing German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday set out her political objectives on a greener, gender-equal Europe where the rule of law continues to hold sway, in an attempt to woo enough legislators at the European Parliament to secure the job of European Commission President

The Christian Democrat of the European People's Party is seeking to become the first woman to hold perhaps the most important post in the 28-nation EU by gathering the requisite 374 votes out of 747 in a secret vote later in the day.

Von der Leyen was a last-minute candidate to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker that EU leaders agreed as part of a package of top jobs that were decided on early this month.

Under the package, the free-market liberal Renew Europe group got Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel as Council President and the Socialists won the top parliament job. France's Christine Lagarde was put forward as head of the European Central Bank.

Von der Leyen told lawmakers in Strasbourg Tuesday that the gender element will be essential if she is elected Commission President overseeing a team of 28 Commissioners.

"I will ensure full gender equality in my College of Commissioners. If member states do not propose enough female Commissioners, I will not hesitate to ask for new names," she said.

Pointing out that since its inception in 1958, less than 20 percent of Commissioners had been women, she said: "We represent half of our population. We want our fair share."

If the parliament rejects her candidature, the whole package of political appointments could fall apart like a house of cards and throw the European Union into a constitutional crisis.

The parliamentarians have not so much objected to von der Leyen personally as voiced their anger that they were sidelined in the appointment process: Their candidates for the Commission post, arguably the most important of all the jobs, were all rejected by the EU leaders.

Officials in the von der Leyen camp acknowledge that the vote will be a cliffhanger but say that she will scrape by. She should get the majority of votes from her EPP Christian Democrats, the S&D socialists and the RE liberals. They were part of a grand coalition sharing out the top jobs.

However, the Greens and German socialists have said they will reject her.

"We don't want a constitutional crisis," said S&D leader Iratxe García Pérez, indicating her group would lean toward supporting her.

During her address to the parliament, von der Leyen set out her political lines for the next years and immediately addressed what she sees as the biggest challenge — climate change.

"I want Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050," she said, adding she would work out "a green deal for Europe in the first 100 days" of her office. It would include rules to improve on the current goal of reducing emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

"It will need investment on a major scale," and funds would be available for nations, mainly in eastern Europe, still depending on polluting fossil fuels, she said.

She said that she would set up a climate division within the European Investment Bank to "unlock 1 trillion euros of investment over the next decade."

Despite the need for votes to get the absolute majority, she did insist that her Commission would continue to be at least as tough as now on countries like Poland and Hungary, who have been accused of disrespecting Western democratic values when it comes to the rule of law.

"There can be no compromise when it comes to respecting the rule of law. There never will be. I will ensure that we use our full and comprehensive toolbox at European level," she said.


Geir Moulson contributed from Berlin

The secret ballot at 6 p.m. will make it impossible to see who exactly voted for her, but she will hope to avoid the perception that she won the nomination by having to rely on populist and extreme right votes.