May 22, 2024

European Elections – Von der Leyen’s Risky Political Balancing Act – News


Ursula von der Leyen needs votes from all parties to be re-elected. But at the moment it’s mostly criticism.

In 2019 there were about nine votes. With this difference, Ursula von der Leyen was elected President of the European Union Commission by the European Union Parliament, which includes more than 700 members. A coalition of liberals, social democrats and her Christian Democratic European People’s Party narrowly paved her way to the EU summit. And Ursula von der Leyen actually wants to stay there. But just a few weeks before the European elections (June 6-9), there are many signs that the race will be close again. Although von der Leyen’s European People’s Party once again has a good chance of becoming the largest group in the EU Parliament, it is likely to be far from an absolute majority.

“Facing the difficulty of forming a committee”

If the election results are confirmed, a complex coalition will emerge. Right-wing parties are likely to make gains, while the Greens and Liberals – both potential partners in a von der Leyen coalition – should expect significant losses. “We face the difficult task of forming a committee,” says MEP Andreas Schwab of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). But he believes the Commission’s president will eventually be Ursula von der Leyen again.

For this to work, Ursula von der Leyen is currently staring distinctly to the right. It does not want to rule out cooperation with the “conservatives and reformists” faction, which includes parties such as Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia party or the Polish Law and Justice party. She simply says that such cooperation depends largely on how Parliament is formed after the elections. So everything is open.

The President of the Commission is elected by the European Union Parliament. However, he is not free to choose: the candidate is proposed by the EU Heads of State and Government to Parliament. However, Parliament is free to reject this proposal. If Parliament rejects a candidate, heads of state and government must submit a new proposal within one month.

But flirting with the right could cost them votes from the left. “If Ursula von der Leyen proposes to cooperate with nationalist parties, we will help her return to Germany,” Italian EU parliamentarian Brando Benevi, part of the Social Democratic group, tells SRF. Von der Leyen has moved toward the right-wing camp when it comes to environmental and climate policy, for example. The Commission has tried to calm protesting farmers across Europe by scaling back the Green Deal. Criticism, on the other hand, is clear in the Green camp in the European Union Parliament. “It is difficult for us greens to trust Ursula von der Leyen,” says David Cormand, a French member of the European Union Parliament.

Accusation of “nepotism”

Then there is also their personnel policy. She wanted to make her party colleague Markus Peper the so-called representative of SMEs in the EU Commission. It is said to have ignored better qualified people. “Nepotism” are the accusations leveled by Parliament. The issue became “Bieber Gate”. The CDU politician eventually resigned from his post, but the issue continues to reverberate.

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Will she remain head of the Commission? Headwinds are harsh. Ursula von der Leyen in a photo taken in April 2024.

Reuters/Joanna Giron

It also angers large parts of the liberal faction. German Free Democratic Party Member of Parliament Michael Koch spoke about nepotism. His colleague in the French group, Marie-Pierre Vedrine, says: “In the past, the President of the Commission sometimes made decisions herself. this is unacceptable.”

It seems as if Ursula von der Leyen can’t really please anyone right now. But if she wants to remain Commission president, she must in fact please everyone. Will you succeed in this balance? Less than four weeks before the European elections, this remains an open question.