by N. Peter Kramer
European Commission’ s Ursula von der Leyen appeared last week in a campaign video for Croatia’s HDZ, member of the European Peoples Party (EPP). It prompted some strong reactions. It was not so much the content of the video. It was just an obligatory wish for a ‘safe Croatia’. Or that the video reminded people that Von der Leyen hails from the EPP. No, it was the fact that the Commission President campaigned in a national election.
Von der Leyen was clearly identified in the video as the Commission President and the EU flag appeared in the background. However, an iron rule in Brussels reads that a Commission President should forget her party affiliation upon arrival in the Berlaymont and not to be visibly partisan.
Critics questioned whether the video breached expectations of neutrality for the European Commission. A Renew Europe spokesman said that it was ‘unprecedented and inappropriate’ what the President did. Von der Leyen could and should have foreseen that her appearance in the video was controversial. She has many experienced advisers, capable of reminding her of the Commission’s code of conduct in case her own judgement is failing.
Von der Leyen has till now completely stayed out of her party family’s debates. For instance about whether Hungary’s Fidesz still has a place in the EPP. Her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, would not have appeared in the HDZ campaign video, but he certainly did speak out, loud and clearly, on the Fidesz controversy.