Merkel and Macron tensions rise over EU top jobs

German leader defends backing of Manfred Weber, opposed by French president

The Franco-German split over who should next lead the European commission has deepened after Angela Merkel defended her support for a fellow German MEP for the post in the face of Emmanuel Macron’s doubts.

The two leaders are divided over the claim of Manfred Weber, the candidate nominated as European commission president by the chancellor’s political group, the European People’s party (EPP).

After a three-hour working dinner of EU leaders in Brussels to discuss replacements for Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the presidents of the commission and council, Merkel said she had spoken to Macron one-to-one in the margins of the summit.

“It is no secret that he does not support the lead candidate principle but we all have to live with circumstances as they present themselves,” Merkel said. “The EPP is the strongest in the parliament. It does not have a majority in the parliament and so we all need to think hard.”

Under the so-called spitzenkandidat system, the “lead candidate” of the political group that wins the largest share of the vote in European elections is favoured for the role of leading the EU’s executive branch.

In 2014, Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg, was appointed by the member states on the back of the principle, introduced by the European parliament.

“This time round the situation looks different,” Merkel admitted. “It looks more complicated and we have to face the facts and deal with them and again find a good solution.”

The EPP remains the largest in the parliament, but its haul of seats in the European parliament plummeted from 221 in 2014 to 180, prompting Weber to concede that the “centre is shrinking”

Merkel insisted, however, that the higher turnout of more than 50%, bucking a four decade trend, was the “engine” that justified the lead candidate system and Weber’s coronation.

Earlier in the day, Macron, whose La République En Marche (La Rem) gained 22 seats during last week’s elections, and joins an enlarged and emboldened liberal group in parliament, offered a thinly veiled critique of the German MEP, who has never held a government position.

Macron insisted that the replacements for Juncker and Tusk required “experience and credibility to enable them to carry out these missions”.

“Today I do not want names to be talked about, names to be attacked; I think we have to take into account what came out of the polls, what the European people have expressed and we must also have decision-makers who have the credibility to be able to act,” he said.

A range of candidates, not all with the backingof parliamentary groups, have emerged in recent months for the top roles.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has not declared himself a candidate for commission president but has been on a tour of capitals in recent months giving speeches on his vision of Europe.

Frans Timmermans, the former Dutch foreign minister, a vice-president of Juncker’s commission, is the lead candidate of the Socialists and Democrats group, the second largest in the European parliament after the EPP.

Asked about Margrethe Vestager, the former Danish finance minister who is a candidate for commission president from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe political group, Macron agreed she had the relevant strengths.

Margrethe Vestager, whom Macron believes has the potential for the role.
Margrethe Vestager, whom Macron believes has the potential for the role. Photograph: Isopix/REX/Shutterstock

“Like Mr Barnier, as Mr Timmermans, people who have precisely these skills but I do not want today to have a debate on the names, I want to have a debate about the project, priorities and criteria,” Macron said.

Tusk said that there was “no automaticity” to the lead candidate system. Of the five EU jobs that will soon vacant – presidents of the commission, council, European Central Bank, the European parliament, and a new foreign policy high representative – Tusk said he wanted to see more gender balance. A woman has never led the commission or council.

“Gender balance means at least two women, if it is possible, we will see,” he said. “But this is at least my plan and my personal ambition and as I mentioned I felt very strong support, maybe not from everyone.”


Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Macron and Merkel signal new move to strengthen eurozone
French president joins German chancellor in Berlin where they say they may look at changes to EU treaties

Philip Oltermann in Berlin

15, May, 2017 @7:41 PM

Article image
Can Merkel and Macron get Franco-German relations back on track?
As a year of big EU decisions begins, the bloc’s most important relationship is stuck in a rut

Jon Henley, European affairs correspondent

02, Jan, 2020 @5:00 AM

Article image
Macron and Merkel at odds over EU top jobs after European elections
German backing of MEP Manfred Weber to replace Juncker has met with resistance from France

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

27, May, 2019 @3:55 PM

Article image
Merkel and Macron propose €500bn EU rescue fund
Member states hit hard by Covid-19 would not repay cash under Franco-German plan

Daniel Boffey in Brussels

18, May, 2020 @7:18 PM

Article image
Macron to press ahead with speech outlining vision to rebuild EU
French president will not be distracted from plans for deeper integration by tricky new coalition government in Germany

Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

25, Sep, 2017 @12:39 PM

Article image
Draghi, Scholz or Macron? Merkel’s crown as Europe’s leader up for grabs
The three contenders to take the helm for the continent as era of outgoing German chancellor draws to a close

Angela Giuffrida in Rome, Kate Connolly in Berlin and Jon Henley in Paris

03, Oct, 2021 @10:51 AM

Article image
Merkel joins Macron in calling for a ‘real, true European army’
Chancellor’s remarks come after Trump steps up attack on French leader over same idea

Jennifer Rankin in Brussels

13, Nov, 2018 @5:15 PM

Article image
Are you Madame Macron, woman asks Merkel at armistice event
Paulette Monier, 100, gets photo with French president – but not his wife – in Compiègne

Kim Willsher in Paris

12, Nov, 2018 @6:43 PM

Article image
Macron voices concerns over Covid vaccines patent waiver
French president says US and UK should start exporting doses around the world instead

Daniel Boffey in Brussels and Kate Connolly in Berlin

07, May, 2021 @3:19 PM

Article image
France and Germany provoke populist anger over 'friendship pact'
Macron and Merkel sign update to 1963 Élysée treaty to restate commitment to EU

Jon Henley European affairs correspondent

22, Jan, 2019 @2:34 PM