Ursula von der Leyen seeking second term as head of EU Commission

19 February 2024, 15:34

Germany EU Politics
Germany EU Politics. Picture: PA

She has held the post for five years.

Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen will seek a second term as president of the European Union’s powerful Commission in a move that could make her the most significant politician representing the bloc’s 450 million citizens in a generation.

Following five years of leading the 27-nation bloc through multiple crises, including the Covid-19 pandemic and the first two years of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the 65-year-old was put forward by her German Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party.

Ms von der Leyen will need only a further rubber stamp when the party’s European umbrella group meets early next month in Bucharest.

She said that even if she accepted in 2019 to become the commission’s chief on an intuitive whim when asked by EU leaders, it is now a very conscious choice.

Germany Europe Commission President
Ursula von der Leyen with Friedrich Merz, CDU federal chairman and Union parliamentary group leader (Kay Nietfeld/dpa via AP)

“Today, five years later, I am making a very conscious and well-considered decision. I want to run for a second term,” she said in Berlin after a CDU board meeting.

The party’s president, Friedrich Merz, said on Monday that his German party “unanimously chose Ursula von der Leyen” to be the candidate to stay in her post.

She also stands a good chance of extending her reign over the executive Commission since the Christian Democrat-dominated European People’s Party is expected to remain the biggest in the legislature following the June 6-9 European elections.

She showed her progressive credentials early on by pushing through a Green Deal that put the bloc at the forefront in the global fight against climate change and amounted to a sea change in EU policy.

However, with Europe’s political mood shifting recently to the right, Ms von der Leyen acknowledged the changes.

“The world is totally different compared to five years ago,” she said in her acceptance speech.

She was among the most outspoken defenders of Israel since the war erupted with the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel — even as international outrage over the Israeli offensive is growing.

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, is pictured during a press conference after a board meeting of the Christian Democratic Union in Berlin, Germany
Ursula von der Leyen during a press conference after a board meeting of the Christian Democratic Union in Berlin, Germany (Markus Schreiber/AP)

Her green credentials also have been dented as she appeared to side with farmers during the past weeks of relentless farming protests throughout the bloc.

There has been no wavering though when it comes to Ukraine, and she has staunchly defended President Volodymyr Zelensky as his nation faces two years of Russia’s aggression. Beyond pushing for sanctions against Russia, she has equally worked to get financial aid to Kyiv and fought to open EU membership talks with Ukraine.

Overall, it has turned the physician and mother of seven into the most prominent EU Commission president since Frenchman Jacques Delors during the 1990s.

Even if the EPP emerges from the elections as the biggest party, it does not give her an automatic right to extend her posting. The leaders of the 27 member states must approve her, and it is part of a mix of decisions on the EU top posts, from EU foreign policy chief to parliament president.

After protracted haggling over such posts five years ago, Ms von der Leyen herself came out of the blue to claim the position after receiving critical support of French President Emmanuel Macron.

With the continuing war in Ukraine and the possible election of Donald Trump as US president in November, EU leaders will unlikely to experiment too much with the helm of the Commission.

The final hurdle would be approval by the EU Parliament.

By Press Association

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