The election of Ursula von der Leyen as the new president of the European Commission has elicited both enthusiastic and sceptical reactions from Czech MEP, who were divided in the vote according to party lines. Those in favour of her election highlight her understanding of Central and Eastern Europe, those against point to her weak mandate.
It is not often that elections to European bodies incite a passionate response in the Czech Republic and the comments from Czech MEPs in Strasbourg on Tuesday night reflected von der Leyen’s knife-edge victory in the elections.
Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who fought against the system of “spitzen” candidates at the recent EU summit in Brussels, wrote a warm message of congratulations on Twitter.
"Congratulations! I am glad that the EU Commission will be chaired by a woman - for the first time ever - and a highly competent one! I supported your candidacy and I am looking forward to meeting you in person very soon to speak about my ideas about the future of the EU."
Similarly warm reactions came from MEPs elected for the prime minister’s ANO party, who are part of the liberal group Renew Europe. MEP Dita Charanzová, who was recently elected one of the Commission’s vice presidents told reporters:
“It will be good to have a woman at the helm and it is good that she is ready to listen to both Eastern and Western Europe and will work to strengthen unity”.
Czech MEPs elected for the opposition Christian Democrats, Mayors and Independents and TOP 09, associated in the European People’s Party, likewise had words of praise. Jiří Pospíšil, an MEP and head of TOP 09 had this to say:
“She is a seasoned politician with extensive experience in the executive branch. That is absolutely crucial for the job. The European Commission is an executive body and its head must be a good executive, not just sit in the European Parliament but be able to manage the Commission, to delegate tasks, to supervise the work and so on.”
Those who opposed von der Leyen’s election were equally passionate in criticizing her. Mikuláš Peksa, elected for the Pirate Party, warned that she owed her narrow victory to the Hungarian Fidesz and the Italian Five Star Movement which he said would tie her hands in negotiations and make her a weak leader. MEP Jan Zahradil from the Civic Democrats, who is part of the ECR faction, said her plans for the future of the EU would not benefit the Czech Republic and were a far cry from the future envisaged by his Civic Democrats.
And, MEP Katerina Konečná, the sole MEP elected for the Communist Party, said Leyen’s election would not bring about the reform that Europe needs. “The Visegrad group can congratulate itself on helping to elect a federalist and strong advocate of European integration to the post” she said tongue-in-cheek, predicting difficult years ahead due to von der Leyen’s weak mandate.