EPP Snubs Hearing Before Brussels Court On Von Der Leyen’s Commission Candidacy

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By Anne-Sophie Gayet

(EurActiv) — The European People’s Party (EPP) failed to show up at a court hearing in Brussels for a case in which the plaintiff is trying to have them remove Ursula von der Leyen as their top candidate for the European Commission presidency.

Last week, Euractiv reported that von der Leyen may face complications in securing a second mandate, as her EU group, the EPP, which remains the largest in the European Parliament after the elections, was due to appear before the French-speaking Brussels Court of First Instance on Friday (21 June) in an urgent procedure.

The fact that the EPP’s lawyers were not present at the hearing came as a surprise in the courtroom. Still, the judge decided to hear the plaintiff’s lawyer, rather than postpone the hearing, as she recognised the matter was “urgent”.

The Pfizergate affair

The plaintiff, Frédéric Baldan, is a Belgian lobbyist specialised in EU-China relations, who is accredited to the EU institutions.

In April 2023, he filed a criminal complaint against von der Leyen before an investigative judge in Liège in the context of the vaccine contract negotiations she conducted via text messages with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, as first reported by the New York Times.

He accused her of abuse of authority, destruction of public documents, illegal taking of interests, and corruption.

The case has since then been joined by 500 parties, including political parties and two EU member states, Hungary and Poland, the plaintiff’s lawyer said.

The hearing held before the Council Chamber of the Court of First Instance in Liège on 17 May was postponed to early December to give parties additional time to examine certain aspects of the case.

After that development, Baldan’s lawyer sent on 28 May a formal notice to the European Council, the Commissioner for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová, and EPP chief Manfred Weber, calling on EU leaders to force von der Leyen’s and her commissioners’ resignation, Euronews reported.

The lawyer then summoned the EPP – registered in Belgium – to appear before a Brussels court for summary proceedings, justifying this move by the urgency of the situation.

Baldan argued that von der Leyen violated the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, several EU treaties, and the commissioner code of conduct during her Commission presidency and could soon be in the same position if re-elected. The lawyer also insisted that she had contravened the EPP’s articles of association.

For the plaintiff, the urgency is justified because the EU top jobs package – and thus the Commission president position – should be agreed among EU leaders at a summit on 27-28 June. The European Parliament will need to confirm the decision through an absolute majority vote in mid-July.

He also argued that he and the other plaintiffs in the criminal case in Liège could face retaliation if von der Leyen was reelected. He pointed out that his EU accreditation as a lobbyist had been summarily removed a couple of hours after a press conference on the Pfizergate he gave with former MEP Michèle Rivasi.

During Friday’s hearing, his lawyer argued that he should be treated as a “whistleblower” and, as such, protected by the EU whistleblower directive.

Baldan said that, if re-elected, von der Leyen could pressure the plaintiffs but also influence the European Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO) – which is investigating the purchase of COVID vaccines and is in the middle of a competence brawl with the investigative judge in Liège over the criminal complaint launched by Baldan.

Baldan requests that the EPP be ordered to withdraw von der Leyen’s candidacy or be subject to a fine of €50,000 for every day of delay from the date of being notified of the judge’s decision.

What could be the EPP’s strategy?

The EPP did not notify either the plaintiff or the judge of its absence, which for the plaintiff’s lawyer symbolises the “omerta” that characterises this case.

Euractiv understands that by not showing up, the EPP might be trying to postpone the hearing for after the Council summit at the end of June, or even after the vote in the European Parliament.

The judge decided not to postpone the hearing and will give her decision next week, saying she hoped it would come “before 27 [June]”.

Contacted by Euractiv, the EPP said it was “not commenting on the issue”.

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