15 july 2019

[4C Note: the article below is a revised and more detailed version of one that appeared earlier today on the Reuters website. That first, very brief report on von der Leyen's effort to win over Socialists and Liberals contained a paragraph with a specifiic reference to a possible EU border tax on carbon that read: "In a bid to persuade reluctant socialist and liberal parliamentarians the day before they will vote on her candidacy, von der Leyen said she will also support cutting EU’s carbon emissions up to 55% by 2030. She pledged to introduce a 'carbon border tax' and to extend the bloc’s emissions trading scheme." Hence our title, which was used for the earlier article. The Guardian article on van de Leyen's letters to the Socialist and Liberal MEPs similarly mentione the border tax on carbon: "She has backed the proposal from the French president, Emmanuel Macron, for a “carbon border tax” which would hit companies that want to trade in the EU but are based in countries that do not live up to the bloc’s environmental standards."]

Von der Leyen pledges social and climate reforms ahead of crunch EU vote

Francesco Guarascio, Reuters, July 15, 2019

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union’s nominee to head its executive Commission proffered economic, environmental and social reforms in a bid for support from a lukewarm EU parliament in a confirmation vote taking place on Tuesday.

Seeking to win over socialists, whose backing is key if she is to get the absolute majority she needs, conservative Ursula von der Leyen said on Monday she would back a guaranteed EU minimum wage and an unemployment benefit scheme.

In letters to the assembly’s socialist and liberal leaders, she also said EU budget rules should be interpreted more flexibly and should aim for a more growth-friendly stance - a view that appears at variance with Germany’s traditional policy of fiscal restraint.

Her promises appeared to have won over some key members of both parties.

“Those are positive commitments that justify our support the vote tomorrow,” socialist Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said on Twitter.

“Hoping the (parliamentary) debate will confirm and clarify her vision also about topics such as cohesion and rural development... and the need to respond to Europe’s housing crisis,” Costa tweeted.

Spanish socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez tweeted that he would also back her candidacy, but “continue to demand more efforts for social Europe”.

Margrethe Vestager, who had been the liberals’ candidate for the top Commission job, also spoke in support of von der Leyen, by tweeting: “MEPs : Don’t miss this historic opportunity to make gender balance in EU top jobs a reality.”

Von der Leyen would be the first woman to lead the powerful Commission, which oversees trade negotiations, antitrust rulings and broad policy for 500 million Europeans.

She announced on Monday she was resigning from her post of German defense minister regardless of whether she was appointed as Commission head. Chancellor Angela Merkel said she respected that decision.

Von der Leyen will address the parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday morning. Lawmakers will then hold a debate and vote for or against her in a secret ballot at 6 p.m. (1600 GMT).

She needs 374 votes in the 747-seat chamber to win.

“There will be a lot of drama ...and in the end ... they’ll push her through,” one diplomat said.

“I just don’t see how the Parliament would push us into a constitutional crisis... There are no votes there for anything different.”


Many lawmakers remain angry that EU leaders, horse-trading over top posts at a summit this month, brushed aside the main political groups’ candidates for Commission chief and nominated von der Leyen as a compromise candidate instead.

To defuse that tension, von der Leyen offered to mediate in talks between the parliament and EU leaders on how to improve the process.

In a further bow to EU lawmakers, who have no legislative initiative, von der Leyen said she supported such a right for the European Parliament, and that a Commission a led by her would accept requests for laws from parliament.

If lawmakers reject her, it would be another blow for the bloc, which has been rocked in the last decade by the euro zone debt crisis, Britain’s decision to leave and the rise of far-right and far-left eurosceptic parties.

Although the Greens have ruled out supporting her, von der Leyen said she would seek a cut in EU carbon emissions of up to 55% by 2030, raising her previous offer from 40%.

She also pledged to extend the bloc’s emissions-trading scheme and set up a “Just Transition Fund”, offers that are likely to please liberal lawmakers and defuse accusations from “yellow vest” protesters that Emmanuel Macron is forcing France’s pay for the transition to a green economy.

To win over German socialists, who have been among the sharpest critics of her appointment, she offered a scheme to help EU countries with high jobless numbers hit by a downturn.

The idea was flagged last year by Germany’s socialists but was blocked by the larger center-right component in the country’s governing coalition to which von der Leyen belongs.

Socialists are also likely to be pleased by her offer of “a fair minimum wage”. Six EU countries, including Italy, Austria and Sweden, have no minimum salary.

Von der Leyen also called for a “conference on the future of Europe” that would bring together citizens and civil society for two years, and wants to eliminate veto powers of EU states on tax, climate and social issues that give smaller countries disproportionate power to block reforms.

Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and John Chalmers

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