The Irish Times view on the European Commission president: Ursula von der Leyen may face a turbulent second term

Her desire for stronger EU action on competitiveness, defence, digital and climate policies may not command support against a changed political backdrop

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen: set for re-election, she faces a testing political environment in her second term (Photo; Shutterstock)

Ursula von der Leyen is set to become president of the European Commission for a second term after the European elections boosted her centre-right party group’s position. Since 2019 her role became more political as she managed crises on Covid 19, the Ukraine war and Gaza and pursued ambitious targets on climate change and foreign policy. The commission became more central to EU decision-making but more centralised and top-down in executive style, highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of her political judgment. She now faces an even more challenging task.

Political decisions about top EU jobs will be made this week by heads of government and will then be subject to a vote in the European Parliament. The centrist coalition supporting von der Leyen has held together sufficiently to secure her nomination; but bargaining on parliamentary and policy support raises the question of whether her willingness to deal with hard right parties like Italian prime minister Georgia Meloni’s is compatible with continuing support from greens, social democrats and liberals. The French national elections will help determine these outcomes. Von der Leyen’s problem is that her desire for stronger EU action on competitiveness, defence, digital and climate policies may not command political support.

Already her retreat on aspects of the Green New Deal she sponsored in the face of right-wing opposition has disillusioned other centrists. Her impulsive initial support for Israel on Gaza without a call for legal proportionality in its response to the Hamas atrocities antagonised leaders and voters in Ireland and elsewhere. Others resent her instinctive proximity to more self-assertive US foreign policy and economic positions without adequate regard for Europe’s own interests.

Much of this can be put down to the nature of an EU becoming more political in its policy-making and more geopolitical in its exercise of power at global level. The European elections provide a real if still under-developed democratic mandate and von der Leyen’s style and substance reflects their outcomes. She has a responsibility to match her politics to the EU’s collective capacities and political direction and then pursue the compromises and bargains to realise them. Her own long political experience as a German minister and as an activist commission president since 2019 add to her credentials for the job.


The most important task she faces will be to hold steady and pursue agreements that can strengthen the EU’s ability to handle these economic, climate, migration and international challenges despite potentially deeper differences between the conflicting forces now at play in European politics. That will be the real test of her political skills in the turbulent five years to come