The French President’s nominee, Sylvie Goulard, was comprehensively rejected after her second confirmation hearing at the European Parliament. Questions were raised over her involvement in an ongoing fraud investigation, Ms Goulard has denied any wrongdoing in the case. However, her brutal dismissal by MEPs reflects anger from Germany’s Christian Democrat after Mr Macron blocked their candidate from becoming the next European Commission president. The reprisal makes Ms Goulard the first French candidate to be blocked by MEPs for reportedly being unfit to take EU office.
Mr Macron said he could “not understand” the reasons behind MEPs’ rejection of Ms Goulard.
But he hinted that “resentments, maybe pettiness” played a role in their decision.
The French leader added: “They told me your name is great, we take it and at the end we finally tell me we don’t want it anymore, the same ones.”
Before the hearing, Mr Macron launched an ultimately unsuccessful last-ditch attempt to save his candidate.
He lobbied EU leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel, to demand their MEPs supported Ms Goulard.
Ms Goulard was far more gracious in defeat. She said: “I take note of the decision of the European Parliament, with respect for democracy.
“I thank the President of the Republic and Ursula von der Leyen for their confidence and all the members who voted for me.”
Only 12 MEPs from outside her political group, Renew Europe, decided to support her candidacy as the staggering details of the secret ballot emerged.
MEPs in the EU Parliament’s single market and industry committee overwhelmingly rejected Ms Goulard as the bloc’s next internal market chief, with 82 voting against, 29 in favour and one abstention.
The majority of the rejections came from the centre-right European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists – who both saw their main candidates for Commission president blocked by Mr Macron.
Suspicions that the EPP were hellbent on exacting revenge on Mr Macron for killing off Manfred Weber’s presidency bid were fuelled by a deleted tweet.
Faintly in the background of an image of a legal opinion form the Parliament’s legal committee, the words “guys we are going to kill her in the vote later but do not say” were visible.
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During her two hearings, Ms Goulard was constantly put on the spot over a fake jobs scandal involving her European parliamentary office.
French authorities are currently investigating and, although, she has never been formally charged, Ms Goulard resigned her post as defence minister in 2017.
Ms Goulard, who has denied any wrongdoing in the case, previously said: “I am clean. I have not been indicted and I have not been found guilty.”
She added that she had stepped down from her post in 2017 to avoid the distraction of an investigation compromising her role.
Ms Goulard said: “At the time I took a decision based on my soul and my conscience and I do the same before you.”
Socialist MEP Christel Schaldemose said: “This is not just a political game, there have been some serious questions about her integrity, some serious questions about her portfolio.
“I don’t know what will happen, Macron will have to find a new person but at the same time, it would be wise if Ursula von der Leyen considers the broad portfolio, because it has been – and it’s fair – part of the discussion.”
The French leader will now be forced to put forward a new candidate to Ms von der Leyen in the coming days.
European anti-fraud office Olaf said last week its investigation relating to Ms Goulard was still ongoing but gave no further details.
It also told the Financial Times the opening of the probe did not mean the person concerned had “committed fraud or an irregularity”.