Outgoing foreign minister Didier Reynders (MR) has been nominated as Belgium’s choice for the new EU Commission, which takes office in October, but the choice has been met by other parties with complaint.
Reynders, currently busy preparing a report on the formation of a new federal government for the king, was tipped earlier for the job, having missed out on a chance to become president of the Council of Europe.
He is without a doubt one of the country’s most experienced politicians, but he has the disadvantage of being a party colleague of prime minister Charles Michel, who made the nomination. Michel has already been selected by EU member states to take over from Donald Tusk as president of the European Council, and Reynders in a top job across the road at the Berlaymont (photo) would, for many parliamentarians, be one MR too many.
The selection is “unacceptable,” according to Peter De Roover, fraction leader in the federal parliament for N-VA.
“This federal government, which has no democratic legitimacy at all is starting to look more like a temping agency for ministers in the caretaker government,” he said. “Above all, after the presidency of the European Council for Charles Michel, another top function goes to a French-speaking politician.”
De Roover is correct, but elides the fact that the last EU Commissioner from Belgium, Marianne Thyssens, was from the Flemish CD&V. And the last Belgian president of the Council was Herman Van Rompuy, also CD&V.
N-VA’s opposition was predictable; less so was the reaction of Défi’s Olivier Maingain, a ferocious defender of the rights of French-speakers. In a tweet he criticised the decision.
“[The government of Charles Michel] an ultra minority rejected in the elections of 23 May, is proceeding with a constitutional coup by proposing [Didier Reynders] as European Commissioner. Défi is demanding the recall of parliament to bring to an end to this violation of the Constitution,” he wrote.
De Roover also had criticism for Flemish parties CD&V and Open VLD, who form part of Michel’s caretaker government, and who voted for Reynders’ nomination. Gweldolyn Rutten, chair of Open VLD, welcomed the nomination.
“Within the framework of the strong European tradition of this country and the liberal family, I wish [Didier Reynders] much success, in the name of Open VLD, with his candidature for the European Commission.”
And support came from an unlikely quarter: Siegfried Bracke, also N-VA and the former speaker of the federal parliament. He tweeted, “All things considered, I think [Didier Reynders] is our best European chance. I can testify: very clever man, very effective too, with experience above and beyond the rest. Also highly respected in other countries.”
So far 24 of the 27 members states of the EU (excluding the UK) have sent in a nomination to the Finnish presidency. Those names will be passed when the list is complete to new Commission president, the German Ursula von der Leyen, who will interview each nominee one by one. Only then will the portfolios be handed out. Later, the new commissioners can look forward to being grilled by the members of the European Parliament.