Ursula von der Leyen (VDL) was elected as the first female President of the European Commission on Tuesday 16 July. Here are some initial thoughts on the vote:

  • Wafer thin majority: She scraped through by only 9 votes but Barroso II and Santer were also elected on tiny majorities. Finding a working, stable majority will be her main task and the vote shows this will be no easy task in this fragmented, ill-disciplined parliament.
  • Pro-European majority?: Socialist leader Iraxte Garcia Perez said VDL was elected on the back of a pro-European majority,  including most of her group, but the numbers indicate that she relied on the votes of the 26 Polish Law & Justice and 14 Italian 5-Star to get her over the threshold. Although the leaders of all the main far-right parties said they would not back her, there are rumours that even the 28 Italian Lega supported her. Garcia hit back saying VDL was supported for proposing a progressive, pro-European agenda and delivering that will be how she is judged.
  • Party discipline and unity: the numbers would indicate that, as with the vote on Sassoli as EP President, about 100 votes from the EPP, S&D and Renew Europe went missing. This indicates how difficult group cohesion will be to maintain and how majorities will fluctuate. Votes in committee on key dossiers could end up being very close.
  • S&D divided: In the end over 100 Socialists were expected to have voted for VDL to ensure stability and avoid an institutional crisis. However there were at least 37 votes against from the Germans (16), Dutch (6) French (5), Austrian (5), Belgians (3), Greeks (2). The Dutch seem to have voted against despite their leader, Frans Timmermans, tweeting his congratulations for her democratic mandate and looking forward to working together to deliver her “green and social programme”.
  • Polish support: The support offered by Law & Justice, following on from the 2nd rejection of former PM Beata Szydlo as EMPL Chairman, is harder to understand and rumours are they are looking for concessions on the MFF.
  • Gender balanced Commission: She quickly called for PMs to send her good female candidates to ensure a gender balanced Commission. 12 Member States have already confirmed their nominations ( 7 men, 5 women) but most of the names circulating in the remaining member states are men.
  • Commission hearings could be tough: having lost out on the Spitzenkandidaten process and forced to accept the Council’s candidate for Commission, we can expect MEPs to be particularly tough at the hearings. The vote to invest the whole college at the end of October may prove another occasion for unhappy MEPs to vent their frustration.