EU Commission President von der Leyen wanted to appoint CDU politician Pieper as the new representative of small and medium-sized businesses. But there was resistance in Brussels.

The president of the Commission, von der Leyen.

The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen Photo: Liesa Johannssen/Reuters

BRUSSELS taz | A serious setback for EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (CDU): one day before her inauguration in Brussels, CDU European politician Markus Pieper resigned from the position of SME representative of the EU, which von der Leyen had at the request of the CDU and other conservative parties had created.

The reason for his withdrawal was that Pieper was being “boycotted” by EU Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton. Therefore, confident cooperation is not possible. French liberal Breton, along with three social democratic EU commissioners, publicly criticized the selection process. Last week, the European Parliament also weighed in and issued a rare rebuke to von der Leyen. The nomination was not transparent and the selection process had to be repeated, said Green MEP Daniel Freund. There was also talk of “favoritism.”

CDU politicians, on the other hand, spoke of an electoral campaign maneuver. Von der Leyen is the main candidate of the conservative EPP, of which the CDU/CSU is also a member, for the European elections. In fact, he wanted to start his election campaign on Monday. “Piepergate”, as the affair was called in Brussels, did not fit the concept. Pieper's resignation has now given him a little respite. However, it seems like a pawn sacrifice. Until recently, the CDU politician had shown no intention of resigning from his position, which he received a princely remuneration of more than 18,000 euros per month. The decision was first announced in Brussels by the EU Commission.

Pieper is “a proven expert in medium-sized companies” and “has prevailed in a multi-stage selection process,” explained Von der Leyen spokesman Eric Mamer. However, recently there have been many doubts about this. Two other candidates are better qualified, according to the European Parliament. The new position of medium-sized business representative remains vacant for the moment. The resumption of the selection process will be suspended until after the European elections in June, Mamer explained. It was not clear why the other candidates from the Czech Republic and Sweden, who were also apparently qualified, were not included.

It is not the first time that von der Leyen fails

It is the second time in a year that von der Leyen has failed with a controversial nomination. In June 2024, he wanted to appoint American Fiona Scott Morton, professor at the renowned Yale University, as chief economist. At the time, even the French head of state, Emmanuel Macron, protested and the EU Commission had to back down. The fact that Von der Leyen appointed his chief of staff, Björn Seibert, to lead his election campaign also caused surprise in Brussels. According to internal EU rules, this is actually not provided for. Consequently, a candidate for the European elections cannot use any human or material resources of the EU Commission.

Therefore, Von der Leyen resorted to a trick: She quickly transferred Seibert to an executive vice president's office. He is officially on leave from the EU Commission. Until the day after the European elections on June 9. He will then be able to resume his former and well-paid position in the Brussels authority.

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