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Von der Leyen’s credentials for top job challenged after leaving German defence a shambles
April 10, 2020
Hans-Olaf Henkel, who stepped down from the European Parliament last year, offered his frank assessment as compatriot Ms von der Leyen struggled to put on a show of unity against a backdrop of squabbling. European Union finance ministers last night agreed an initial 500 billion euro package of measures to combat the economic fallout of the global coronavirus pandemic which will now need to be ratified by leaders of the EU27. However, French finance minister Bruno Le Maire hinted at trouble further down the line when he suggested the scheme would be financed by joint debt, a concept anathema to northern countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.
The situation adds up to a baptism of fire for former German defence minister Ms von der Leyen, who was forced to delay her start date from November 1 to December 1, before saying goodbye to the UK – the EU’s second-biggest net contributor – at the end of the month.
Mr Henkel, who previously outlined his reservations about Ms von der Leyen’s credentials for the bloc’s top job last year, told Express.co.uk: “Quite frankly I still think she will do a better job than Manfred Weber, who was the person who thought he had it all wrapped up.
“I think we should thank Mr Macron for speaking up and saying what everybody thought but didn’t dare to say, that this guy was not up to that position.
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“But her credentials are very meagre – she has left the German defence in a shambles, in ruins.”
Referring to Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, he added: “Her successor is the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, and she has announced she will step down.
“She had all sorts of things to do when she came into the job so it is very obvious that Ms von der Leyen didn’t do a good job as a defence minister.
“I must say this is the third position I have watched her in and she is in my view, not up to the job.
“Although I think even for Merkel, or Winston Churchill, in this particular situation, with such unclear responsibilities and enormous expectations, I think almost anybody would fail.”
In an op-ed published on the Commission’s website, Ms von der Leyen wrote: “Yes, it is true: Europe was initially partly blindsided by an unknown enemy and a crisis of unprecedented scale and speed. This false start is still hurting us today.
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“But Europe is now standing tall together. And that is being driven by a surge of compassion across our Union.
“That solidarity is infectious – and it is at the heart of our Union.
“Thanks to that impulse the real Europe is back. The one that works together to do what none of us could do alone.
“The EU is now delivering and is working flat out every day to save every life we can, to protect livelihoods and kick-start our economies.”
The agreement unveiled yesterday avoids an explicit mention of jointly issued debt, which was anathema to the Dutch, but Mr Le Maire said it was there implicitly.
He told reporters EU member states had agreed to mobilise a total of one trillion euros ($1.09 trillion).
Half of figure would be made available in the short term and the rest would come from a new joint recovery fund, which France had set as its pre-condition for its approval of the overall package.
Significantly, he added: “Who’s going to raise the debt? There’s a lot of uncertainty that remains to be determined.
“But I have a firm conviction that the fund will see the light of day and there will be debt raised jointly in a form that remains to be determined.”