BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany’s Social Democrats risk harming the coalition government in which they serve and triggering an EU constitutional crisis by opposing the nomination of Ursula von der Leyen to head the European Commission, a top German conservative said on Thursday.
In a surprise decision after marathon talks, EU leaders on Tuesday nominated von der Leyen, currently Germany’s defense minister and a member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives, to head the executive Commission. The European Parliament must still endorse the appointment.
But Merkel had to abstain in the vote among the 28 EU national leaders because the Social Democrats (SPD), her junior coalition partner, opposed von der Leyen’s nomination.
“If the Social Democrats really stick to their destructive opposition to the candidacy of Ursula von der Leyen this would be a burden on the coalition and it risks triggering a constitutional crisis in Europe,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), told reporters.
The SPD’s popularity in Germany is at a record low after it suffered painful losses in the European Parliament elections in May. The party is under growing pressure from angry members to quit Merkel’s coalition and rebuild in opposition.
Ralf Stegner, deputy leader of the SPD, told Deutschlandfunk radio, that his colleagues in the European Parliament would most likely vote against von der Leyen.
“The Social Democrat lawmakers have absolutely no reason to vote for von der Leyen,” Stegner said.
Von der Leyen would be the first woman to head the powerful Commission, replacing Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker. The Commission oversees EU budgets, trade policy, and drafts laws.
But Merkel’s decision to nominate her has drawn criticism in Germany, where many say the post should go to the lead-candidate in the largest political grouping following the EU elections. That would have been Germany’s Manfred Weber of the conservative European People’s Party but he did not have sufficient support.
“What do we tell a first-time voter who had full trust in a democratic Europe of the future who gave his vote to Manfred Weber?” the mass-selling Bild wrote in an editorial entitled ‘How the EU disregards the will of voters’.
A poll by DeutschlandTrend for the ARD public broadcaster showed only 56 percent of respondents in Germany thought von der Leyen would make a good Commission president.
But the SPD’s opposition to von der Leyen has angered many in Merkel’s conservative bloc. Some have accused it of being unpatriotic for refusing to back the first German to head the Commission in 60 years.
Additional reporting by Thomas Escritt and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Gareth Jones