Macron Suffers Setback After His EU Commission Pick Is Rejected

(Bloomberg) — French President Emmanuel Macron was dealt an embarrassing political blow when his candidate for the European Commission was rejected over concerns about an ongoing investigation into misuse of public funds.The European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday voted down Sylvie Goulard in a major setback to France’s plans to shape the agenda of the incoming commission. The 54-year-old no. 2 at the French central bank is a close ally of Macron and had been tapped to lead the bloc’s industrial policy and digital market for the next five years.Macron’s office was clearly angry. In an emailed message, it said Goulard was the victim of “a political game that engulfs the EU Commission as a whole.” Macron plans to call the EU President-elect Ursula Von Der Leyen to discuss the next steps and he’ll likely submit a new name.It’s not so uncommon for commission candidates to get knocked back, but this rejection is a bad look for Macron and the new head of the EU’s executive arm at a most delicate moment, with Brexit still a gnawing concern, not to mention an escalating trade war and Turkey’s worrying incursion into Syria.The candidate had faced a grilling during her confirmation hearing last week when lawmakers zeroed in on her ongoing legal problems and a highly-paid stint advising a U.S. think tank. During hours of questioning, the deputies asked how she was eligible as a commissioner when she had been forced to step down as a minister in the French government.Goulard quit as Macron’s defense chief after only a few weeks in 2017 due to an investigation into whether she misused public funds during her time as a European lawmaker.Macron’s office says Goulard was cleared at the EU level. But French authorities are still conducting a separate probe into her party while the EU anti-fraud office is looking into Goulard herself. She denies any wrongdoing.The loss serves as a lesson for the French president of the risks of his sometimes high-handed style. He riled EU lawmakers before the summer when he sidelined the parliament’s nominees for the post of commission chief. Now the lawmakers have got their own back.The concerns over Goulard’s suitability also focused on her work advising Berggruen Institute, which reportedly paid her around 10,000 euros ($11,000) a month for several years from 2013 to 2016, a period that overlapped with her time as an EU lawmaker.Goulard is the third candidate for the EU’s executive arm to be sent home, after designates from Romania and Hungary got booted, also over alleged irregularities in their financial statements.The EU Parliament has a track record of forcing incoming commission presidents to make changes to their teams. Both current commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and his predecessor, Jose Barroso, rejigged commissioner assignments before taking office as a result of EU Parliament objections.In the case of Barroso, a former Portuguese prime minister who served as commission president from 2004 until 2014, he and his first team started work three weeks late after re-assignments to the justice, tax and energy portfolios.In its most dramatic move against the commission, the EU Parliament forced the resignation in 1999 of the entire commission leadership team under then President Jacques Santer as a result of a scandal affecting France’s appointee.To contact the reporters on this story: Nikos Chrysoloras in Brussels at [email protected];Geraldine Amiel in Paris at [email protected];Jonathan Stearns in Brussels at [email protected] contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at [email protected], Raymond ColittFor more articles like this, please visit us at©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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