Ursula von der Leyen had better get Romania to nominate a woman for the new European Commission, social democrats in the European Parliament warned Tuesday.
The leader of the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group, Spanish MEP Iratxe García, delivered the warning during a meeting Tuesday evening with von der Leyen, the Commission president-elect.
The new Commission under von der Leyen was supposed to take office on November 1 but has faced a delay of at least a month after Parliament rejected three Commission nominees, including Rovana Plumb of Romania, a social democrat.
Von der Leyen had promised the Parliament during her own confirmation process that she would form a gender-balanced College of Commissioners.
But the current tally stands at 15 men and 11 women, after the Parliament rejected three nominees, including two women, Plumb and Sylvie Goulard of France. French President Emmanuel Macron has nominated a man, Thierry Breton, to replace Goulard.
“I have some worries about the political balance which had already shifted a bit towards the EPP through earlier measures” — Frans Timmermans, Dutch social democrat
The S&D’s frustration over the shrinking number of women on the new Commission is compounded by the party losing the Romanian commissioner’s seat to the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), after the social democrat government in Bucharest collapsed.
Breton, though technically the nominee of Macron’s liberal-centrist Renew Europe group, is also known for historical ties to French conservatives.
An EPP-led government took office in Romania on Monday and is expected to present a Commission nominee soon. Two EPP MEPs have been widely discussed in Brussels as possible nominees — Siegfried Mureșan and Adina-Ioana Vălean.
Von der Leyen, a longtime ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is also a member of the EPP, and the growing sway of conservatives in the future Commission also drew complaints on Tuesday from current Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans, who will stay on as the most senior executive vice president in the new college.
Timmermans, a Dutch social democrat, warned that the political balance seemed increasingly off-kilter.
“I have some worries about the political balance which had already shifted a bit towards the EPP through earlier measures,” Timmermans said.
Those measures included a surprise decision by von der Leyen to name Valdis Dombrovskis, a conservative and former Latvian prime minister, as a third executive vice president in the new Commission. Initially, only Timmermans and the liberal Danish commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, had been expected to serve as executive VPs, essentially forming a triumvirate with von der Leyen.
“I think that the Commission, in relation with Parliament, should reflect the political balances across the board,” Timmermans said Tuesday. “And I think this is a responsibility of all. But we will see what happens.”
An S&D official said that García urgently requested to meet von der Leyen on Tuesday to personally convey the growing anger in her group’s ranks, and to urge her to press the new government in Bucharest to put forward at least one woman as a potential Commission nominee.
If Romania nominates a man — and von der Leyen accepts — the new Commission would have 16 men and 11 women, not counting the U.K., which has so far refused to name a commissioner because of Brexit.
“It’s already difficult for our group to swallow that there is a risk that there won’t be a political balance” — An S&D official
“Iratxe wanted to pass the message that this would be unacceptable,” the S&D official said.
The official said rank-and-file social democrats recognized that nothing could be done about the conservative EPP claiming an additional seat in the College of Commissioners as a result of Romania’s new center-right government. But their frustration over that loss only created added incentive to press von der Leyen on her commitment to achieving gender parity.
“It’s already difficult for our group to swallow that there is a risk that there won’t be a political balance,” the group official said. “But in that case, it makes it even more important to fight for the gender balance.”
The Parliament must vote to approve the entire new Commission before it can take office, and without the votes of the S&D, the other two largest pro-EU groups, the EPP and Renew Europe, do not have enough for a majority. That could require von der Leyen to turn to the Greens as well as to hard-right, or even extremist, conservatives.
The S&D official said members of the group were eager to approve the new Commission and to restart legislative work in earnest, but that they would potentially withhold support if von der Leyen accepts a male nominee from Bucharest.
Another option that MEPs have begun discussing is the possibility of trying to “compensate” the social democrats for the loss of the Romanian spot by reallocating some of the portfolio assignments of the new commissioners. The French portfolio, covering the EU’s internal market, as well as industrial policy, defense and space, is viewed as particularly expansive. But Macron has insisted loudly that it remain intact, and officials said it was difficult to see how to reapportion any of that portfolio’s duties in a way that would benefit the center-left group.
Redrawing the portfolios could also lengthen the confirmation process, creating further risk that the new Commission does not take office before the end of the year.
Eline Schaart contributed reporting.
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