June 19, 2024

Styles Of Leadership

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Von der Leyen’s rival lashes out at her ‘unacceptable’ leadership style

5 min read

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Good morning. The first polls open in two days for a continental vote that will shape the EU’s next five years — and campaigning is reaching its peak.

Today, Nicolas Schmit, the lead candidate for the centre-left bloc, tells our parliament correspondent that centre-right rival Ursula von der Leyen has an “unacceptable” leadership style. And our Berlin bureau chief reports from deadly floods in southern Germany.

Interested in how the elections will change the EU? Join me and my colleagues in Paris, Rome and Germany for a subscriber-exclusive webinar on June 12 and put your questions to our panel. Register for your subscriber pass now. Your pass also gives you access to a recording of the event.

Enter the ring

Socialist candidate Nicolas Schmit has finally taken off the gloves with a direct attack on his boss-turned-rival ahead of the weekend’s elections, writes Andy Bounds.

Context: Schmit, employment commissioner in the current European Commission, is running as the Socialist’s lead candidate for the commission presidency — against incumbent Ursula von der Leyen, the European People’s party candidate and favourite to win the race.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Schmit said von der Leyen had quashed dissent in the 27-strong college of commissioners and took decisions “in some hidden room” without discussions.

Schmit singled out a controversial deal with Tunisia, negotiated by von der Leyen together with autocratic leader Kais Saied, in which the EU offered money in return for stopping migrants leaving its coast for Europe.

“This came on a Friday afternoon [to the college] and we had one hour to say no. If after one hour you hadn’t said anything it was yes. This is unacceptable,” Schmit said.

Tunisia’s security forces have driven thousands of migrants into the desert on the borders with Algeria and Libya, and faced widespread accusations of human rights abuses and even human trafficking.

“The way refugees are treated is just shocking,” Schmit said about Tunisia, contrasting it with a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey. According to him, refugees were treated more benignly there, including because of EU funding for NGOs rather than security forces.

Schmit said von der Leyen consistently excluded her commissioners from decision making. “This is about the governance of Europe,” the Luxembourger said. “You cannot just keep that under the table in some hidden room. We need a real debate in the commission. And you need a president that faces criticism.”

Commission spokesperson Eric Mamer said the “process was collegial” with “ample opportunity for members of the college to request a discussion in the college”.

Despite Schmit’s criticism, von der Leyen’s EPP is on track to win the elections, giving her the first chance to get the job — provided most of the 27 EU leaders back her.

She must then get a majority in parliament.

Chart du jour: Momentum

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Italy’s Giorgia Meloni and France’s Marine Le Pen represent two different shades of Europe’s far-right. If they can find a way to work together, they could determine the EU’s short-term future.

Washed away

Floods in southern Germany are claiming a rising number of casualties, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz yesterday travelled to the region to inspect the damage and promise federal support, writes Guy Chazan.

Context: Heavy rains in the states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg over the weekend have caused severe flooding, resulting in the disruption of train services in the region and forcing dozens of schools and businesses to close.

Firefighters yesterday discovered the bodies of a man and a woman in the village of Schorndorf, just east of Stuttgart, an area that has been particularly affected by the floods. Another body was found in Schrobenhausen, north-west of Munich.

On Sunday, the body of a fireman was found, who died when his rubber dinghy capsized. A second fireman is still missing.

Speaking to reporters in the Bavarian town of Reichertshofen, Scholz said more had to be done to tackle the climate crisis, noting that it was the fourth time he had visited a flood-affected area in Germany this year.

“We cannot neglect the task of stopping man-made climate change,” Scholz said. “That is the message we must take from these events and this disaster.”

The floods seen in recent years were no longer singular events, he said. “That’s why the government has to act.”

Video footage published by local media showed rivers transformed into fast-flowing torrents, and cars left piled up on each other as the floodwaters in some villages receded.

Thousands of volunteers filled sandbags as river levels remained elevated and an important dam on the river Paar between Munich and Nuremberg burst in three places.

But officials said it was too early to give the all-clear, with heavy rains expected to continue falling.

What to watch today

  1. Ursula von der Leyen on a campaign trip to Finland.

Now read these

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  • Gas spike: Europe’s gas price jumped to its highest level this year following an outage in Norway, demonstrating the continent’s precarious supply situation.

  • Dirty metal: Europe’s steel industry risks missing ambitious climate targets despite receiving billions of euros in state aid.

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