EU Council, OK for von der Leyen, Costa and Kallas. Italy abstains on Ursula and says no to the other two

June 2024
By Ilaria Donatio

Ursula von der Leyen tonight received the European Council’s support for a new mandate at the head of the European Commission. Italy, represented by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, preferred to abstain: it will now be up to the European Parliament to give final approval on the Council’s appointments, considering that there the former German Defence Minister will be able to count on the votes of the Populars, Socialists and Liberals, but her majority is only 38 seats.

The European Council also nominated Estonian Liberal Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, 47, to the post of High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, and gave itself a new president in the figure of António Costa, 62, the former Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister.

On the latter two, Italy’s PM Meloni voted against. Once every five years, in the wake of the European elections, the European Council takes its decisions on the main EU posts by qualified majority. Little, therefore, could Italy do to block the candidates nominated by the popular-socialist-liberal majority. The Hungary of nationalist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán also voted against Mrs von der Leyen.

Meloni: proposal wrong in substance and method
“The proposal formulated by the Populars, Socialists and Liberals for the new European summits is wrong in method and merit,” the Prime Minister wrote on X tonight. “I decided not to support it out of respect for the citizens and the indications that came from those citizens in the elections. Let us continue working to finally give Italy the weight it deserves in Europe”.

Net of the election result in Italy, which rewarded Fratelli d’Italia, at European level the Conservative parliamentary group, to which the Italian party belongs, obtained just over 10% of the seats. In contrast to the European Council, decisions on EU posts are taken on the basis of political affiliations, not national interests. The popular-socialist-liberal alliance weighs more than 50% of the hemicycle, and has 22 leaders out of 27 in the European Council.

Meanwhile von der Leyen thanks everyone
“I would like to express my gratitude to all European leaders,” von der Leyen commented in the night. “I will seek confirmation of my nomination to the European Parliament after presenting my political programme for the next five years.” He added: “Yes, Giorgia Meloni abstained on my nomination, but it is important to work well at the Council with Italy, as well as with the other member states, it is a principle I always follow.”

The agenda of the first day of the European Council in Brussels, which was attended by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, had as main points besides the war in Ukraine, the Middle East, defence and top jobs, the top roles of the European institutions.

The numbers in parliament: mid-July confidence vote
The majority counts on 399 seats compared to the required minimum of 361: von der Leyen may want to enlarge his pool of MPs towards the left and the right. For some time he has also been looking at the possibility of obtaining votes from some conservative parties, such as Fratelli d’Italia or the Belgian N-VA. At the same time, it can also hope to gain the support of some green parties. The expected vote of confidence could take place as early as mid-July in Strasbourg.