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Von der Leyen to seek second EU term

2024-02-19 HKT 23:41
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  • The 65-year-old German former minister's candidacy comes at a time when the EU is facing strong headwinds from the far right. Photo: AFP
    The 65-year-old German former minister's candidacy comes at a time when the EU is facing strong headwinds from the far right. Photo: AFP
Ursula von der Leyen announced on Monday her bid for a second term as chief of the European Commission, vowing to defend the bloc from forces aiming to divide it.

The 65-year-old German former minister's candidacy comes at a time when the European Union is facing strong headwinds from the far right, Russia's war against Ukraine is still raging, and with the spectre of Donald Trump returning to the White House rattling allies.

"We must defend against divisions from within and without. I am sure that we have the strength to do so, and that is the task that I have set for myself," von der Leyen said in Berlin, as she confirmed her candidacy following a meeting with her CDU party.

At the helm since 2019, von der Leyen has led the bloc's executive body as the EU traversed an extraordinary period of disruptions -- from Brexit to the coronavirus pandemic to Russia's invasion of its pro-EU neighbour.

Hendrik Wuest, a key figure in von der Leyen's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Germany, said five more years for her would be a much needed constant at a time of uncertainties.

"A second term would be a sign of stability, that is all the more needed at a time when our European values are being attacked from all sides," he told news site Politico.

Following Monday's nomination by the CDU, the broader alliance of conservatives across the bloc -- the European People's Party group to which the CDU belongs -- is expected to name her as its lead candidate for the post when it meets in Bucharest on March 6-7, EPP leader Manfred Weber has said.

Von der Leyen, a protege of former German chancellor Angela Merkel, who served as minister in all four of her cabinets, is the first woman to lead the commission.

A second von der Leyen commission would likely find itself with a changed political landscape.

Voter surveys suggest far-right, anti-immigrant parties across Europe will grab more seats in European Parliament elections on June 6-9, pushing the legislature to the right.

That could slow progress towards European Union green transition that von der Leyen had made a cornerstone of her first term. It could also grow the cohort of European lawmakers sympathetic to Trump should he regain the White House.

Highlighting the challenges ahead for von der Leyen, Alberto Alemanno, a EU law professor at the Belgium-based College of Europe said she could face pressure from her own party to "undo her major achievements during her tenure -- from delaying climate action to suspending the enlargement and reform" of the 27-nation bloc.

EU lawmaker Daniel Caspary of the CDU said he expected her priorities to shift, with more concessions to Europe's farmers, though her support for Ukraine and for sanctions against Russia were likely to remain.

Underlining the crucial importance of standing firmly behind Kyiv, von der Leyen told the Munich Security Conference over the weekend that it was "much more than a question of Russia-Ukraine.

"It's a question of whether democracies globally prevail, and are we able to defend and protect our values. And the answer has to be yes," she stressed.

Alluding to a possible return by Trump, who has rattled NATO allies by threatening to abandon those who fail to meet their defence spending commitments, von der Leyen also voiced the importance of building a "strong Europe".

The bloc has to boost its defence resources -- improving spending on defence production and ensuring that the manufacturing is done in Europe so that billions in taxpayers' funds are channelled to companies that are creating jobs on the continent, she said.

Von der Leyen also outlined plans to "install a commissioner for defence" if she won a new term.

"And where he or she is coming from -- this is open but of course I think it's very important for the central and eastern European countries to have good portfolios and this is a good portfolio," she said. (AFP)

Von der Leyen to seek second EU term