Macron emerges victorious as a new EU leadership rejects Brexit and anti-EU populism

Von Der Leyen is the epitome of modern German Euro-Atlanticism. She is very moderate in her comments and says nothing memorable – the hallmark of a professional senior minister in Europe

Denis MacShane
Wednesday 03 July 2019 10:46
Donald Tusk announces Belgian prime minister as his replacement and German defence minister nominated as European Commission president

In a stunning reaffirmation of core European values, the next European leadership team will by led by women and men who are strongly committed to European partnership and opposed to the anti-European ideology of Boris Johnson, Viktor Orban, Matteo Salvini and Marine Le Pen.

In a clean sweep for pro-European liberal centrists, the EU Commission president will be Ursula “Uschi” Von Der Leyen, a 60-year-old mother of seven, who is currently Germanys defence minister. Educated at the LSE and Stanford she is the daughter of one of the first top officials to run the EU in 1957.

Like Boris Johnson she was in school until age 13 in Brussels and speaks fluent French as well as English.

Her appointment, together with Christine Largarde, the former French finance minister, who as IMF chief urged more gentle handling of the Greek debt crisis than the austerity obsessed EU Commission, is a major win for France’s President Emmanuel Macron who emerges as Europe new king- or queen-maker.

The liberal Charles Michel from Belgium who is named president of the EU council, and the Catalan socialist and strongly anti-separatist Josep Borrell, the new foreign policy supremo, are also fluent French speakers.

It is a major win for what Macron calls “les progressistes” and leaves the EU’s nationalist populists in East and Central Europe who were proclaiming along with Steve Bannon they would take over Europe rolling in the dust.

Von Der Leyen is the epitome of modern German Euro-Atlanticism. Talking to her recently about Europe’s future I sensed a woman as firmly committed to the German vision of a Europe of shared sovereignty and partnership as any German leader from Adenuaer to Merkel.

She and her doctor husband, now a medical industry CEO, incarnate the modern Euro-German tradition of state service, culture – she loves music (she visits London privately for concerts) – and family. She has close friends in London and knows British politics.

What she privately thinks of the UK edging ever closer to a prime minister who has been a serial liar and a chronically unfaithful purveyor of populist fake news demagogy against fellow Europeans might be imagined but has not been said.

When we spoke last month I told her Boris Johnson would be prime minister but the Commons was unlikely to vote either for a no deal, or for May’s unworkable deal, and that MPs of all parties were hostile to a new election.

Therefore, I argued, once the dust settles on the Conservative Party leadership election which will install our new prime minister, the impossibility of a crash out of Europe on 31 October would become self-evident.

She did not see any problems with an extension after 31 October and expressed concern about the rise of the far-right AfD especially in the former East Germany and the loss of authority for traditional parties. She is no friend of, and will make no concessions to, the anti-EU populists of Salvini, Orban, Le Pen, the Tory ERG group, Thierry Baudet in Netherlands, Jarosław Kaczynski in Poland etc.

She was and is very moderate in her comments and says nothing memorable – which is the hallmark of a professional senior minister in Europe. She calls for more EU integration and has used the term "European Army" while of course being ultra-protectionist of the German arms industry and keeping German defence spending low.

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At 63, Christine Largarde, the new European Central Bank president is older but with years of experience as a New York corporate lawyer before being called back as France’s finance minister by Nicolas Sarkozy.

She incarnates the Davos neo-liberal open economy idea of modern capitalism. But at the IMF she gave out hints that she knew the long 30-year run of unrestrained capitalism by, for, and of the rich was no longer sustainable.

The rising inequality, poverty in the midst of affluence and the millions of left-behinds in Europe and America who had fallen under the sway of the Trump-Johnson-Farage-Salvini demagogy is now seriously worrying policy-makers. That trend had prompted Russian president Vladimir Putin’s to declare at the G20 summit that liberal values were now dead. This new EU leadership team is a slap in the face for that assertion.

Meanwhile the European socialists keep the foreign policy slot. Borrell, 72, is a veteran of Spanish socialist politics who has strongly defended the integrity of Spain and is a vigorous opponent of nationalist separatism, which might concern Nicola Sturgeon.

He has called Donald Trump a cowboy over his behaviour in Venezuela and calls for an EU brokered negotiation in the country between Juan Guaido and Nicolas Maduro.

So this new EU team is very much one that conforms to Macron’s idea of a progressive, not a nationalist Europe. In British terms, it is almost Blairite and figures like Peter Mandelson have long promoted Christine Lagarde as a future major player in Europe.

The Liberal ALDE group get the presidency of the Council but there is nothing for new European member states. The big boys – Germany, France, Spain are running the show.

Denis MacShane is the UK’s former Minister of Europe. His new book, "Brexeternity. The Uncertain Fate of Britain" will be published shortly.

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