Germany's von der Leyen begins European Union charm offensive

11 Juillet, 2019, 14:25 | Auteur: Anatole Charbonneau
  • Germany's von der Leyen begins European Union charm offensive

Ursula von der Leyen, who is expected to become the European Commission president in November, told MEPs she would back a delay in Britain's EU exit beyond the end of October.

But she insisted there would be no change to the Irish backstop and warned Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, who are both aiming to replace Mrs May, that the "tone and attitude" of Brexit were vitally important to future relations between Britain and the EU.

Ms von der Leyen, a German defence minister, also showed her support for the Brexit deal negotiated by Brussels negotiator Michel Barnier and Theresa May, the outgoing Prime Minister.

"I really hope that Brexit doesn't happen", she said.

Should she succeed, von der Leyen said she wanted a gender balance at the Commission and that Dutch Socialist Frans Timmermans would be her first deputy along with Danish liberal Margrethe Vestager, now the EU's competition chief.

If selected she will take over from Mr Juncker on November 1, which will leave her out of crucial Brexit negotiations between the European Union and the new prime minister the month before.

She clarified her views on European defence, restating that national parliaments should continue to have the final say on sending men and women into risky situations. The self-confessed "Remainer" said it would be a "good idea" to give Britain's next prime minister extra negotiating time if it helps prevents a no deal Brexit.

"Though I still hope you remain, it is in our interests to have you sort things out".

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"I think the backstop is of utmost importance and we absolutely know how crucial this nonexistent border is for you", she said in response to an Irish MEP. "We have an agreement - which hasn't been signed on both sides - and we have the backstop", she added responding to a liberal MEP during the Renew Europe hearing on Wedesday, reiterating that the deal negotiated was a good one: "I think it's a good deal but it is your responsibility and your noble task to sort things out", she added.

What else did she pitch?

As we've said, we want you in.

Von der Leyen replied, "Yes, the door is open because we want you in".

The 60-year-old needs more than half of the votes in the 751-member parliament to be confirmed in the post next week.

She is likely to win the backing of major groups in the European Parliament, but the way she was proposed as a surprise candidate has come under criticism.

The EU, weakened by the 2009-2012 euro zone crisis, Britain's decision to quit the bloc and the rise of far-right and far-left eurosceptic parties, needs a strong Commission president to improve its fortunes, officials and experts say.

Many MEPs were frustrated that national leaders chose her over some of the frontrunners from the biggest political groupings in the new parliament, following the elections in May.

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