June 24. 2024. 6:27

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Renew, ID lead pre-EU election debate as EPP’s von der Leyen keeps low profile

Squabbles between liberal Sandro Gozi and far-right Anders Vistesen dominated the second live debate for the EU executive’s top job in Brussels on Tuesday (21 May), while European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and socialist Nicolas Schmit brought little surprises to the table.

At the Maastricht event, a high-conviction Commission president defended her case on Green Deal policies, migration, defence, and the Israeli-Gaza conflict against seven other candidates.

Last night, conversely, neither von der Leyen nor Schmit – who represented the two largest groups in the EU Parliament, at the centre-right and centre-left of the house respectively – showed much motivation to engage in disputes.

Meanwhile, Gozi, an Italian-born representing French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance (Renew Europe), openly confronted Vistesen, the Danish co-founder of far-right Identity and Democracy Party (ID), on several of topics – mostly related to the bloc’s common spending.

The liberal MEP staunchly defended the EU budget’s landmark programmes – the bloc’s common agricultural policy and cohesion funds – against Vistesen’s accusations of vast inefficiencies.

“If it was true [that common spending is better than national spending], then we should have the most competitive agriculture in the world, and we should have no deprived regions, […] especially in the older-membership countries,” Vistesen said. “But in both cases, when we look at the numbers, we don’t.’”

Gozi rebuffed by citing the examples of Spain, Portugal and Poland as “very important economies” that enabled growth thanks to EU cohesion and agricultural funds.

“Without common agricultural policy, there wouldn’t be any more agriculture neither in France nor Italy,” he added.

“Look at the growth rate of Spain and Portugal since they joined the [European] Union, look at the growth rate of Poland, and you will change your mind on cohesion,” Gozi argued.

Von der Leyen’s economic recipes

“Cohesion [is] enshrined in the treaties at the core of the European Union. But we can always improve,” she said.

Gozi agreed that the wider EU budget should be contingent on conditionalities aligned with the bloc’s policy priorities, including economic security and clean transition.

“You have to set principles consistent with your priorities and policy objectives,” Gozi said. “[The EU’s] own resources must be linked to favourable behaviours consistent with our common policy objectives.”

“There’s one thing that we have to strengthen and expand: the rule of law conditionality mechanism,” Gozi emphasised. “We must be much more demanding on how we link the budget to the fundamental respect of the rule of law.”

Both Gozi and Schmit (the latter representing the Party of European Socialists/S&D) largely agreed with Von der Leyen’s economic policy prescriptions, which stressed the need to shore up the bloc’s own funds and boost Europe’s stagnant economy by deepening the bloc’s Capital Markets Union (CMU) for private investments.

The president of the EU executive cited the “strong conclusions” EU leaders reached at the European Council Summit in April, adding that it is now up to national governments to complete the CMU by “speeding up and fulfilling their task”—in particular, by negotiating the contentious issue of centralised financial supervision.

A ‘more targeted’ China policy

China also loomed large over the evening’s discussion, with all candidates but the Commission’s president adopting decidedly hawkish stances on Beijing’s state-subsidised industrial policy.

Gozi condemned China’s “more and more aggressive” trade policies, while Vistesen argued that Europe should “stand united” with the US “to push back the Chinese economic expansion in the world”.

Schmidt warned that Europe may be experiencing the “beginning of a [trade] war” with Beijing, in stark contrast to a more dovish Von der Leyen.

Von der Leyen, however, played down the risks of a trade war escalation. She said Europe is now in a better position to prevent it thanks to its recently adopted de-risking strategy—centred on reducing the bloc’s dependency from China on strategic sectors rather than undergoing a full economic “de-coupling.”

“I have given the motto: De-risk but not de-couple. And I think it’s obvious we are in the category of de-risking from China. We have decoupled from Russia. So that’s very clear. Russia decoupling, but China de-risking.”

She also contrasted Europe’s attitude towards China as “much more targeted [and] much more tailored” than the US, which imposed steep tariffs on a range of Chinese products last week.

Von der Leyen nonetheless said that if any of the Commission’s ongoing anti-subsidy probes against China find that Beijing’s support for its industries violates WTO rules, “the level of the duties we would impose [would be] correspondent to the level of damage.”

The third and final Spitzenkandidaten debate will be held at the European Parliament on Thursday (23 May).

Read more with Euractiv

German liberals slam von der Leyen for not ruling out new EU debt

German liberals slam von der Leyen for not ruling out new EU debt

Politicians from the liberal FDP (Renew), part of Germany’s three-party ruling coalition, have criticised European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen for not ruling out a new debt-financed EU investment programme.

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