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The European Parliament is not immune to the prevailing populist approach. The most deserving and entitled candidate for a European Commission post has been rejected. The legislature has started out on the wrong foot

European Internal Market Commissioner-designate Sylvie Goulard of France attends her second hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

European Internal Market Commissioner-designate Sylvie Goulard of France attends her second hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

With 82 votes against and 29 in favour or abstaining, the Internal Market and Industry Commissions of the Euro-parliament have rejected the appointment of Sylvie Goulard as European Commissioner for the Internal Market. The French candidacy, after being called for repeated auditions supposedly to discuss a suspended court sentence and a supposed conflict of interest, has been scuttled by an unprecedented alliance between the People’s Party, the Greens, the GUE (the anti-EU communists) and the sovereigntist group ID. “Political posturing”, was what the French President’s office termed it, and the rejection had very little to do with the notice of investigation dating back to two years ago (for a supposed improper use of Euro-parliament funds) and Goulard’s consultancy for the American think-tank Berggruen, which was undertaken in an entirely legal context.

What really mattered was sending a warning salvo to Emmanuel Macron and who cares if Sylvie Goulard was the perfect candidate for the post: a member of the Euro-chamber between 2009 and 2017, she is competent, thorough and staunchly pro-European. This was a revenge dish served up cold by the EPP against the French president who opposed the Spitzenkandidaten and effectively ensured that the leader of the European People’s Party, Manfred Weber, was not granted the Commission presidency. A power clash between the French and Germans who are rattling their sabres following the election of Christine Lagarde as president of the ECB, as they were not partial to such an important portfolio, (which includes Internal Market, Industry, Defence, Space and Digital) falling into French hands.

A revenge plotted by the People’s Party, who have scuppered a candidate who supposedly belongs to the so-called European elite, mindless of the fact that this means playing into the hands of the conservatives. A revenge that in the end harms everyone and casts a shadow over the future of a parliament that as things stand appears to be ungovernable and headed by an extremely weak leader. The political consequences of this rejections are hard to gauge, what is certain is that Ursula von der Leyen risks not having her house in order in time for the confidence vote in Strasbourg on 23 October, so she can take up her post on the 1st of November. France, Hungary and Romania (that have all had their commissioners rejected) must appoint replacements, who must then sit further auditions. The postponement of the new Commission is a tangible and certain risk. This is not a good start for what is supposed to be a new Europe.

There’s a further social and cultural element behind these rejections which is even more worrying: the prevailing populism/pauperism is now spreading to all branches of society, which means that public posts can only be secured by displays of existential suffering, with a blank curriculum also viewed as a plus. Allowing incompetence to rule the roost may be a useful transition phase with a view to a healthy management class turnover, which is no mean feat, given the knee-jerk rear-guard actions this produces within the establishment as it fights to protect its own prerogatives. But if this phase lasts too long, the risk of binning the entire system of governance and even the rules of civil cohabitation is very high.

Here at eastwest, we have had plenty of opportunity to witness Sylvie Goulard’s morality, political passion and energy and are honoured to have her on our Scientific Committee, and want to make a strong appeal to ensure that competent personalities are no longer sacrificed on the altar of populism. We are already close to the high water mark. Please, let’s keep our wits about us.


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