July 25, 2021

between Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, a permanent rivalry

Everything was millimeter for this United States – Europe summit which, Tuesday, June 15, in Brussels, was to symbolize the relaunch of transatlantic relations, after the difficult Trump years. Charles Michel, the President of the Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, her counterpart at the Commission, had no room for error and, although their relationship was abrasive, they could not afford to expose a new times their disagreement in broad daylight. Faced with Joe Biden, the former head of the Belgian government like the former minister of Angela Merkel had to offer the image of a united Europe.

Within the community institutions and in the capitals, their permanent “fight” to be the one who embodies Europe in the eyes of the world has been feeding the chronicles for months. But it was during their visit to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on April 6 that she came to light. The images were looped, showing two armchairs set up for Mr. Michel and his host, while Mr.me von der Leyen found himself on a sofa, after having ostensibly expressed his disapproval with ” HM hm “. The #sofagate hashtag was going to spread like wildfire on social media.

From a strictly protocol point of view, the Ankara episode was no exception to the rule. An institutional agreement of 1is March 2011 establishes, in fact, that the President of the Council comes before that of the Commission. Moreover, the Commission, unlike the Council, had not seen fit to send its protocol service to Turkey.

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Whatever, the occasion was too good. Despite appeals for appeasement launched by the Twenty-Seven, who prefer dirty laundry to be washed as a family, Mr.me von der Leyen and his entourage cleverly fueled accusations of sexism against Mr. Michel. “I am the first woman President of the Commission and I wish to be treated as President of the Commission. In Ankara, it was not the case and it happened because I am a woman ”, she argued in the European Parliament on April 26. “I felt hurt and I felt alone, as a woman and as a European”, she added. Earlier in the day, his team had nevertheless assured that of Mr. Michel that it would spare their foal in front of MEPs.

The revealer of “sofagate”

Since M. Michel and Mme von der Leyen took up their duties on 1is December 2019, these two disproportionate egos are fighting for the same chair: that of “President of Europe” on the international scene. In this area, the texts provide for a complex division of roles, which leaves space for internal strife. The President of the Council represents the European Union (EU) for “Matters relating to the common foreign and security policy”, specifies Article 15 of the Treaty on the EU. But it is the Commission which is responsible for the external aspect of Community policies – and which controls the budget. As such, it negotiates international agreements, whether it be the customs union with Turkey, migration issues or trade relations.

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