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Von der Leyen promises Liberals 'no structured cooperation' with Meloni's ECR

Ursula von der Leyen met with Renew Europe MEPs to discuss her potential second mandate.
Ursula von der Leyen met with Renew Europe MEPs to discuss her potential second mandate. Copyright Renew Europe.
Copyright Renew Europe.
By Jorge LiboreiroVincenzo Genovese
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Renew Europe currently has 76 MEPs, which Ursula von der Leyen needs to secure the confirmation for a second mandate.

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Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission who is bidding to muster a majority for a second term, promised the liberal family of Renew Europe that she would not establish a "structured cooperation" with Giorgia Meloni's group.

"We had good exchanges with Ursula von der Leyen. Frank and tough questions from our side," Valerie Hayer, the French MEP who presides Renew Europe, said on Wednesday after a meeting between the Liberals and the incumbent.

"We made very clear that we don’t accept any flirt with the far right. She gave us commitments. We will look at this very closely, of course."

During her re-election campaign, von der Leyen raised eyebrows when she made increasingly explicit overtures to the Italian premier, who firmly controls the hard-right European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group.

Due to her socially conservative views and her attacks on press freedom, Meloni is considered anathema to Renew Europe, as well as to the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), who are the main opposition in Rome. However, within the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), Meloni is seen as a constructive, pragmatic figure, even if her stance often veers into Euroscepticism.

Crucially, the EPP does not consider the entire ECR as "extreme right" as the Socialists and the Liberals do and prefers to treat the group in separate factions: Meloni's Fratelli d'Italia on the positive side, and Poland's Law and Justice (PiS), on the negative.

Since the elections to the European Parliament, von der Leyen, who belongs to the EPP's moderate wing, has changed her tune and vowed to build a centrist, durable platform with the EPP, the S&D and Renew, which together would hold a 400-seat majority.

"Our position is absolutely clear, from the Renew group. We should be in coalition with pro-European groups, which is clear. For us, ECR is not a pro-European group," Hayer said. "We don't have to make any deal with the ECR group."

Asked if von der Leyen committed herself to exclude the ECR group from her future platform, Hayer said "she promised to build a coalition as she has done" in her first mandate, backed by EPP, the S&D and Renew.

Two Renew officials said von der Leyen was more explicit during the closed-door meeting and promised "no structured cooperation" with ECR during her potential second term, a statement that appears designed to quash any remaining doubts.

Getting to 361

Still, the aspirant should not take for granted the support of the 76 MEPs that sit with Renew. The German, Slovak, Portuguese and Irish delegations are considered the most skeptical ones, Euronews understands, due to von der Leyen's handling of the democratic backsliding in Viktor Orbán's Hungary and Robert Fico's Slovakia.

Meanwhile, the six MEPs from Ireland are opposed to her reappointment over her response to the Israel-Hamas war, which was criticised for being excessively pro-Israel.

Similar interparty rebellions are expected to happen in the EPP (188 MEPs) and S&D (136), suggesting von der Leyen might fall short of the 361 votes she needs for a second term. The gap could be filled with either the Greens (53) or the ECR group (78).

Here's where the quandary lies: moving too close to the Greens would trigger the ire of her conservative allies and moving too close to the ECR would, in turn, alienate progressives. Wednesday's remark suggests the Greens, the staunchest advocates of von der Leyen's Green Deal, might be the safer option.

The president has already met with the S&D and Renew, and she is scheduled to meet the Greens on Wednesday afternoon and with the ECR group next Tuesday before her confirmation vote on 18 July. The meetings allow the groups to present their wishlist of ideological demands and pet projects for the five-year cycle.

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For the Liberals, this includes defence, competitiveness, cutting red tape, protecting fundamental rights, climate action and migration management.

"There is no blank cheque," Hayer said. "Renew's political priorities must be incorporated into the Commission's work programme for the next five years."

Ahead of the make-or-break date, EPP Chairman Manfred Weber urged the hemicycle to endorse the nominee, respect the so-called Spitzenkandidaten system and ensure political continuity in a world ridden with crises.

"If Ursula von der Leyen would fail, we would risk ending up in a Europe with a lot of instability," Weber told journalists on Wednesday morning.

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"If Ursula von der Leyen would fail next week, then there would be one man happy and that is Viktor Orbán. And I don't want to give Viktor Orbán this gift."

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