The European Parliament took revenge against Emmanuel Macron by rejecting his choice to be France’s next EU Commissioner on Thursday.
Mr Macron was instrumental in the ditching of the centre-Right European People’s Party (EPP) candidate for European Commission president.. MEPs retaliated by vetoing Sylvie Goulard, the French president’s pick to join the new EU executive in Brussels.
The EPP is now expected to heap pressure on Mr Macron to name Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, as his choice to become what has been dubbed a “super-commissioner” in charge of industrial, space and defence policy.
The French president rejected EPP candidate Manfred Weber in marathon talks in July that destroyed the 2014 Spitzenkandidat precedent, a democratic experiment that tied the commission presidency to the results of the European elections. Prior to 2014, EU leaders in the European Council picked the commission president.
Mr Macron was pivotal in the backroom summit dealings that led to Ursula von der Leyen being parachuted into the job. The switch humiliated the fragmented parliament which backed the replacement candidate by just nine votes, despite vowing not to in a resolution.
Every EU country nominates a commissioner to serve in Brussels but they face a hearing and vote from MEPs on their candidacy. Britain has not nominated a candidate for the next commission, which takes office on November 1, because of Brexit.
Senior sources in the EPP suggested Mr Barnier, a member of their party who has served two terms as an EU commissioner for France, would have been an easier pick to support than Ms Goulard.
Mr Macron has praised Mr Barnier, who has a EU-wide profile thanks to his influential Brexit role, but will be reluctant to name a commissioner who is not a member of his liberal Renew Europe group.
Former MEP Ms Goulard faced questions over two hearings about her lucrative work for a US think tank and allegations she used her European Parliament assistant for domestic political work.
An EPP tweet accidentally revealed a faint WhatsApp message saying, “Guys we are going to kill her in the vote later but do not say,” before a committee of MEPs voted 82 against and 29 in favour of giving her the job.
It is traditional for MEPs to reject at least one candidate for commissioner as a “sacrificial lamb”. Ms Goulard is the third rejected candidate for the new commission, which is a record number of scalps at the hearing stage. She thanked Mr Macron for his confidence in her.
MEPs have already rejected Romania’s and Hungary’s candidate but the dismissal of a French commissioner is unprecedented. The last member of a Western European country to be rejected was in 2004.