By Michel Rose
PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron spoke on Friday of a “political crisis” between the EU’s executive and its parliament after lawmakers rejected his pick for commissioner, while members of his party blamed a leading German conservative for the debacle.
The lawmakers on Thursday emphatically rejected Sylvie Goulard, Macron’s pick to head industrial policy in the next European Commission over her role in a jobs scandal, in which she denies wrongdoing, and her past work as an adviser for a U.S. think-tank which paid her more than 10,000 euros a month.
Their move could potentially delay the start of the new Commission, which is due to take office on Nov. 1, and curb the influence of France, the European Union’s second biggest economy and a founding member of the club.
Each EU member state nominates a candidate for the Commission who must then pass a confirmation hearing in the European Parliament.
“We must not allow a European political crisis to escalate,” Macron told reporters before a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban at the Elysee palace in Paris.
He said a Europe consumed by “its own petty wars” would become a weaker power on the global stage.
Privately, French officials are seething and accused Manfred Weber, a German conservative member of the European Parliament, of orchestrating Goulard’s downfall as revenge after Macron scuppered his hopes of becoming the next Commission president.
“There’s vengeance and resentment, and we feel we’re paying the price of tactics by the (conservative) European People’s Party, which are alien to us because we’re newcomers,” a source within Macron’s party told Reuters.
Weber’s entourage denied they acted out of revenge.
“The EPP group always insisted on the seriousness of the procedure because the European Parliament has an important democratic role to play with these confirmation hearings,” an EPP official said.
Another source close to Macron said “anti-French” sentiment among countries in Germany’s orbit also played a role in Goulard’s rejection, reflecting a sense that Macron had acquired too much influence in the incoming executive.
It was Macron who successfully proposed Ursula von der Leyen, another leading German conservative, to become the next Commission president, and Goulard received a huge portfolio overseeing the EU internal market and European defence integration.
“This is an attack on France,” the first source close to Macron said. “There’s an anti-French front, that’s very clear. They’re trying to make us pay because France is now the engine of Europe and some prefer the status quo.”
The second source close to Macron added: “Taking down the candidate of France can’t be without consequences.” The source declined to elaborate.
Macron will call von der Leyen over the weekend to seek “assurances” that, beyond Goulard’s case, the incoming Commission’s agenda won’t be paralysed by turbulent EU lawmakers, a French diplomatic source said.
The president will also raise the issue with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in talks at the Elysee on Sunday, the diplomatic source added.
“It poses a problem for the future. If when we start talking about policies we face these sorts of divisions, it will weaken everybody: the Commission’s president, the Commission and the European project,” the source said.
(Reporting by Michel Rose; additional reporting by Marine Strauss in Brussels; Editing by Gareth Jones)