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VDL is synonym for ‘more of the same’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s CDU party announced her candidacy as the Spitzenkandidat for the European elections

By: EBR - Posted: Tuesday, February 20, 2024

The EU needs reform, including treaty change, and it needs leadership, but more than that, it needs people’s support for these reforms. At the end of the process, it will be up to the European Parliament to decide if von der Leyen has the potential to lead the way.
The EU needs reform, including treaty change, and it needs leadership, but more than that, it needs people’s support for these reforms. At the end of the process, it will be up to the European Parliament to decide if von der Leyen has the potential to lead the way.

by Georgi Gotev

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s CDU party announced on Monday (19 February) her candidacy as the Spitzenkandidat for the European elections and, according to a well-choreographed scenario, the EPP congress in Bucharest on 6 March will make official her bid to succeed herself as Commission chief.

The big question is why the EPP thinks von der Leyen will inspire voters.

As the outgoing Commission president, could she realistically promise anything else but more of the same? Apart from the new EU commissioner for defence that she touted in Munich this weekend.

If Europeans are happy about the state of the union, they should vote enthusiastically for von der Leyen and the voter turnout, which was 50.66% in 2019, should skyrocket.

But the problem is that Europeans are hardly content with how our Union has responded to their expectations and everyday needs.

No matter what official statistics say, most Europeans feel their living standards are declining due to daily inflation and rising prices. They are worried about their jobs and about insecurity, which they often blame, fairly or not, on illegal immigration.

Most Europeans believe that the Eurocrats live in an ivory tower, that they don’t understand the hardships of ordinary citizens, and that they pursue ideological goals such as the Green Deal without thinking about their impact on ordinary people.

The Eurobarometer is a good instrument to measure what Europeans think, but this collection of public opinion surveys managed by the EU Commission, seems afraid of asking the right questions, and its findings often appear rosy.

The EPP has been, throughout decades, a leading force in building the EU. As the largest political family in the EU since 1999 (in the Council since 2002), it will surely score another victory when we vote in June.

And the chance that their lead candidate becomes chief of the European Commission (obviously the most coveted EU top job) again is more than solid, even though according to EU treaties, heads of state and government will ultimately decide, with the European Parliament having the last word.

Even within the EPP ranks, there had been different currents. Many in Brussels remember how different the official candidates were, Manfred Weber and Alexander Stubb, in the run-up to the 2019 elections.

Stubb posed as a reformist and the candidate of values, as opposed to Weber, seen as open to unruly coalitions with the far-right. In the end, Weber won, but EU leaders disregarded him and chose von der Leyen, as proposed by Macron, as a compromise candidate.

In the run-up to the Bucharest congress, the current EPP doesn’t offer such a choice, just like in the US, where the incumbent president faces no challenge from his own party ranks.

In a perfect world, we could dream of an alternative candidate to VDL who would not be afraid of highlighting the shortcomings of the EU, like the state of the economy or the decline in skills and performance of school children, and propose a different way forward.

The EU needs reform, including treaty change, and it needs leadership, but more than that, it needs people’s support for these reforms. At the end of the process, it will be up to the European Parliament to decide if von der Leyen has the potential to lead the way.

Lawmakers in the European Parliament gave the green light to von der Leyen in 2019 with a wafer-thin majority. After the June election, it will be a hemisphere quite different from the present one and it already seems that a majority of MEPs don’t want “more of the same”.

*first published in: Euractiv.com

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