Mrs Loiseau has been forced to deny claims she recently called German conservative Manfred Weber a ‘lightweight’ politician, but the report could still slash her hopes of leading the new centrist alliance in the EU parliament. Mrs Loiseau, who was the top candidate on President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance list in last month’s parliamentary elections, has called the claims she had compared Mr Weber to an “ectoplasm” a “pure fantasy”. Mrs Loiseau said in an email sent to her fellow MEPs in the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) bloc on Thursday: “This is all pure fantasy… Now is a time for us to come together and not to divide.”
Mr Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the EU chamber, is vying for the job of European Commission president.
The article, which has since been removed from Le Soir’s website, had also quoted Mrs Loiseau as saying in an off-the-record briefing that the ALDE parliamentary bloc would soon have “new methods, a new charter and a new leadership,” sparking claims she is planning a radical overhaul of the group.
This is not the first time Mrs Loiseau has been entangled in controversy.
Just week’s before the EU vote, the Brussels lawmaker acknowledged a series of blunders that unsettled the president’s camp.
Mrs Loiseau first denied and then attempted to play down a report that she had once joined far-right activists on a student union ticket. She also said the elite ENA administrative school had treated her “like a gypsy” when she became director because she was not an alumna.
The former European affairs minister told France 2 television she had made “clumsy mistakes, certainly”.
She said: “I am not a political dinosaur, and nor do I claim to be. I have no desire to become a robot, nor do I wish that we serve up sterile phrases, formulaic wording and punchlines.”
But the 54-year-old failed to woo voters, with Mr Macron’s La République en Marche (REM) party losing the French vote to the far-right Rassemblement national (RN) movement.
Mrs Loiseau’s mistakes could also undermine Mr Macron’s efforts to position himself as the new leader of Europe.
Mr Macron, a staunch europhile, has put EU renewal at the heart of his presidency in a bid to turn France into the bloc’s new engine.
He has repeatedly locked horns with German Chancellor Angela Merkel over EU policy, most recently over who will succeed Jean-Claude Juncker at the head of the EU Commission.
Mr Weber is the top choice of the EPP, the biggest bloc in the EU parliament, and of Mrs Merkel.
The German leader backs the “spitzenkandidat” mechanism, whereby a lawmaker selected by the EU assembly should get the Commission job. The candidate is selected by the party with the most seats in the EU parliament, the EPP, which is dominated by Mrs Merkel’s CDU party.
But Mr Macron has repeatedly opposed the “spitzenkandidat” process, insisting EU leaders, and not lawmakers, should elect the new Commission chief.
He recently listed centre-left pick Frans Timmermans, EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager as suitable candidates, but pointedly left out Mr Weber’s name.
Arriving at an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels last month, the French centrist said that the bloc needed someone to lead a “renewal” and that the new Commission leader needed to have the “experience to achieve it”.
“Because these are serious responsibilities at the European level which require experience – whether in their own country or in Europe – to have credibility and know-how,” he added.
His insistence on the need for the candidate to have experience and credibility has been seen as a thinly-veiled dig at Mr Weber, who is virtually unknown outside Brussels.
Under EU law, the European Council nominates a Commission president which is then approved by the newly elected parliament.
But many in Brussels believe that the Commission, which serves as the bloc’s executive and civil service, should be headed by a president with a mandate from the parliament.
Haggling over the top EU jobs, which also include a successor to European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, European Council President Donald Tusk and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, seeks to balance the interests of individual EU states and groups of countries as well as political parties.