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The battle for the top EU job heats up

All eyes are on Ursula von der Leyen as EU lead candidate is campaigning for her next mandate at the helm of the European Commission. Amongst her key talking points over the past weeks – competitiveness, defence, and combatting foreign interference topped the agenda. These are said to be her main priorities possibly shaping her portfolio reshuffle once she gets re-elected.

The decision to appoint the head of the Commission rests with the 27 heads of state and government of the European Union.


Ursula von der Leyen is the lead candidate for the European People’s Party (EPP). In her speeches, she reminds the audience that investment in defence will become the Commission’s priority by boosting the defence industry and funding. Also, she doubled down on strengthening the single market and competitiveness throughout the European Union.

The procedure stipulates that MEPs must confirm the President of the Commission based on a proposal by the Heads of State and Government. In 2019, von der Leyen received only a narrow majority of nine votes. This time around, building a majority is likely to be even more difficult as polls show more right-wing conservatives and unpredictable candidates will win seats in the 720-seat legislature.

Ursula von der Leyen needs to face up to some challenges in her race for a new mandate. Recently the European Public Prosecutor’s Office threatened to sue the European Commission. European prosecutors – who are also investigating allegations related to the Covid vaccine negotiations between Ursula von der Leyen and the CEO of Pfizer – are now threatening the European Commission with legal action.

Despite the unwavering support from her European People’s Party, the incumbent boss of the European Commission has to face up to criticism from other political groups and apparent dwindling support outside of her political group. The leader of RENEW group in the European Parliament refused to back Ursula von der Leyen for a new mandate.

From the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), MEP Brando Benifei said the EU needs change. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to re-elect Ursula von der Leyen”.

The conservatives also have a bone to pick with Ursula von der Leyen. The ultra-nationalist Identity & Democracy as well as the European Conservatives and Reformists parties will not be allowed to take part in the upcoming debate for the Commission presidency, due to their rejection to name a Spitzenkandidat- leading candidate for the European Commission. On the European Broadcasting Union website where the leading candidates from each political group are listed, there is no mention of representatives from the conservative and ultra-conservatives in the European Parliament. Another conservative party – the European Christian Political Movement – said its leading candidate had also been excluded from the debate, considering the move an “unfair decision”, calling it censorship and criticizing Ursula von der Leyen.

A second term in office for von der Leyen is unlikely to be any easier. From 2025, Ursula von der Leyen has to consider the possibility that Donald Trump will return to the White House in Washington. The two do not have a good relationship.

Photo by Christian Lue on Unsplash

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