Analysis. 'We must defend against divisions from within and from outside. I am sure that we have the strength to do so, and that is the task that I have set for myself.'

Von der Leyen wants a second mandate in the name of defending the union

Ursula von der Leyen wants another five years as president of the Commission – “a conscious and thoughtful decision,” she said on Sunday in Berlin during the meeting of the governing council of the CDU. The EPP is expected to nominate her as lead candidate at the next congress, which will take place on March 6-7 in Bucharest. Then, the European Council is set propose her name for the Commission presidency.

Since 2002, most of the 27 countries have been governed by parties that are part of the EPP, the largest group in the Parliament – which decides on electing the Council president – and expected to remain the largest after the June 6-9 elections. So far, Sweden, Latvia, Lithuania, and also Spain’s Socialist Pedro Sánchez have already declared their support for von der Leyen, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has no intention of opposing her candidacy (in any case, he certainly doesn’t support Merkel’s former defense minister for NATO secretary). Only Viktor Orbán is clearly against her (during her tenure, the Commission froze funds destined for Hungary for disregarding the rule of law).

In 2019, von der Leyen’s nomination was a whirlwind, wanted by Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel to avoid picking the unexciting Manfred Weber. Ursula von der Leyen’s candidacy was approved by only nine votes in the European Parliament. This year, there are risks due to the expected growth of the far right. In 2019, the “Ursula majority” consisted of the EPP, the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and Renew. This time she may need support from part of the ECR group, and the Council president has already prepared the ground, signaling public agreement with Giorgia Meloni in Lampedusa, in Forli, and once again in Rome on the occasion of the launch of Meloni’s Mattei Plan for Africa, meetings that have led to grumbling in Brussels.

“We must defend against divisions from within and from outside. I am sure that we have the strength to do so, and that is the task that I have set for myself,” said von der Leyen. “From within” must mean the tendencies within the EPP towards agreement with the far right (as is already happening in a number of countries, where the right is in coalition with the extremists). By “from outside” she likely means the black wave that aims to overturn the preeminence of a centrist positions in European institutions.

Von der Leyen’s reelection would be a signal of continuity for the EU, at a time of crisis after crisis. We can already see the trajectory outlined: at the Munich Security Conference, von der Leyen proposed the introduction of a European Defense Commissioner, which should be someone from Eastern Europe (the name of the Polish Foreign Minister, Rodoslaw Sikorski, is already making the rounds).

And last Sunday, in a call with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, she insisted on support for Ukraine, which allows London to effectively put one foot back in the EU, as well as on the cooperation agreement between British agencies and Frontex to combat illegal immigration, which will be made official in the coming days. In 2019, Ursula von der Leyen promised she would lead a “geopolitical commission”; in 2024, the way forward she is proposing to restore the EU’s strength on the world stage is to build a common defense.

During her first term, von der Leyen worked to maintain the unity of the 27, even making Orbán toe the line one way or the other (on the opening of Ukraine’s accession negotiations and the 50 billion euros in aid).

The EC president managed the COVID crisis and joint vaccines, Brexit (which came into effect on January 31, 2020), the war in Ukraine, the Green Deal (proposed by the Commission in December 2019) and the advent of the digital economy. The 750-billion-euro joint loan (in July 2020) marked a turning point.

Regarding COVID, she is still dogged by the Pfizergate scandal: a court decision is expected this year following the complaint against von der Leyen for failing to disclose the contents of email exchanges with the CEO of the U.S. pharmaceutical company, Albert Bourla. A ruling against her could disrupt the start of her next term.

Ursula von der Leyen has long claimed that the Green Deal was the most important success of her presidency; however, enthusiasm for not compromising the future has waned. The EPP has lobbied to make concessions to farmers and to water down green standards. The greenhouse gas emission reduction goals for 2030 have been set into law, but there is a risk of the Green Deal not going any further, and von der Leyen is abandoning this battleground.

The common foreign policy, an area still provisional for the EU, has caused her a number of problems: most recently, she was criticized after a trip to Tel Aviv following the October 7 Hamas terrorist attack, where she made a statement siding with Israel without informing the member countries.

Earlier, her rivalry with EU Council President Charles Michel had led to her being embarrassed in the “sofagate” diplomatic incident in Istanbul, engineered by Erdogan with the complicity of the Belgian.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Your weekly briefing of progressive news.

You have Successfully Subscribed!