Von der Leyen’s Political Future Now Hangs By A Thread

Ursula von der Leyen is aiming for a second term at the head of the EU Commission. But the Greens and a new star among the European conservatives could thwart the Germans’ plans. So she has to fight now.


Wednesday was a cloudy, rainy day in Brussels. But it was a pitch-black day for the President of the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen: There are many indications that November 24th heralded the end of her decades-long, successful political career.

There were only a few lines in the coalition agreement between the SPD, the Greens and the FDP, which was presented in Berlin on Wednesday around 3 p.m. It says: “The right to propose the European Commissioner rests with Bündnis90 / Die Grünen, provided the Commission President is not from Germany.” Years of careful monitoring and control on behalf of the German government – but if von der Leyen is not re-elected, they are immediately ready to nominate an EU Commissioner from their own ranks.

These control and suggestion rights did not just fall from the sky. The Greens had repeatedly and emphatically demanded these rights over the past few weeks. In return, during the coalition negotiations in Berlin, they made concessions to their government partners elsewhere on personnel and factual issues. The Greens in Berlin and Brussels know only too well: The new President of the EU Commission will not be elected until 2024, but the big haggling over the most important office on the European stage will begin behind the scenes by the middle of next year at the latest. And unlike the SPD and FDP, the Greens will be involved from the start.

However, this Wednesday, things got even worse for von der Leyen: In the evening, the conservative EPP majority faction elected the candidate for the prestigious office of President of the EU Parliament. At 7:20 p.m., the result was clear: 112 out of a total of 174 EPP MPs voted for Roberta Metsola with two opposing candidates.

It is now clear: Although there is currently still a few skirmishes on this issue between the two largest groups in Parliament, the Socialists and the European People’s Party (EPP), Metsola will, as agreed, the socialist David Sassoli as the new President of the EU Parliament in January peel off. Moreover, she will only be the third woman in this post; 31 incumbents have so far been men.

But what does all of this have to do with von der Leyen? This was explained on Wednesday afternoon by the influential MEP Sven Giegold, who helped negotiate the coalition agreement for the Greens in Berlin. First, Giegold made it clear that the government in Berlin would not lift a finger for von der Leyens to be re-elected. “If Ms. von der Leyen wants to become Commission President again, she has to nominate the EPP as the top candidate for the European elections in 2024, and she has to win these elections.” Furthermore, Giegold made it clear that the Greens – and with them, the SPD and FDP – Will not accept a backroom deal on the most important EU personnel, as last time between Berlin and Paris. That increases the pressure on von den Leyen immensely. She can no longer hope that a few strong EU heads of government will ensure that she somehow remains President of the Commission in 2024.

According to the unanimous assessment of high circles of the EU Commission, Von der Leyen “definitely wants a second term”. But in the opinion of the Greens, she must first be nominated as the top candidate of the European Conservatives. “The decision about the future of von der Leyens lies with the EPP,” said Giegold.

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