The nominated candidate for the post of European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, yesterday said that the Irish backstop protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement “is of utmost importance,” adding, “Having the backstop in the Brexit deal is precious, important and has to be defended.” Addressing the liberal MEPs from the Renew Europe group, von der Leyen also said, “Brexit is not the end of something, Brexit is the beginning of future relations and it’s of absolute importance that we have good cooperation,” adding that the current Withdrawal Agreement is “a good deal…but it is [the UK’s] responsibility and noble task to sort things out.”
Speaking at a separate hearing with the European Greens, von der Leyen said her position is that “if the UK needs more time, it would be a good idea to have an extension” to Article 50.
Since the hearing, the Green MEPs group announced they would vote against von der Layen’s candidacy next week. The group’s President, Ska Keller, said, “The statements of Ursula von der Leyen were disappointing. We did not hear any concrete proposal, be it on rule of law or on climate. We have been elected on a mandate for change and we don’t see how change will be possible with this candidate.”
Elsewhere, von der Leyen said she is planning to have a gender-balanced Commission involving equal distribution of positions between women and men. She also said that she is in favour of the enlargement of the Schengen Zone, and would “keep the door open” for EU enlargement to the Western Balkans.
This comes as most European Parliament committees yesterday elected their chairs and vice-chairs. No candidates from the far-right Identity and Democracy (ID) group were elected.