European Commission President Starts Reelection Bid

Ursula von der Leyen announced she will pursue a second term as president of the European Commission. With the endorsement of the center-right organizations that make up the European People’s Party (EPP), the EU’s largest political group, her reappointment ahead of European parliamentary elections in June appears likely.

VDL, as she is known for short, was neither particularly well-liked in her previous role as Germany’s defense minister nor was she the first choice for the EU’s most powerful job. Four years on, she may have won a few hearts and minds.

The first woman ever to hold the job, von der Leyen has faced an unprecedented series of crises, from Brexit and Covid-19, to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, to a wave of migration that has altered EU politics and the emergence of artificial intelligence. Along the way, some argue, she managed to fill the vacuum created by chronic squabbling among the 27 member states and the diminishing power of the Franco-German partnership in driving EU policies.

Yet, “I am not sure that Europe is particularly divided, at least not by historical standards,” says Christoph Meyer, professor of European and International Politics at King’s College London, “The mutual public criticisms over how to help Ukraine are a rare occurrence in Franco-German relations.”

Meyer credits a “relatively high degree of unity in the EU” in part to van der Leyen and her response to the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Still, at times she has “overpromised and underdelivered,” he says.

For all the talk of unity, where von der Leyen might have fallen short is in her relationship with the president of the European Council, who helps establish the bloc’s political agenda in consultation with member states. “Van der Leyen and Charles Michel clearly did not like each other and competed for attention,” Meyer observes. “It might be hoped that she becomes somewhat more consultative in her next term, and develops a better relationship with her new counterpart—whoever they may be.”