Von der Leyen vows to tackle threats to European peace as she moves closer to second term as EC president

Von der Leyen says she will increase support of Ukraine and clamp down on migrant smugglers

Populists, nationalists and demagogues of the far right and left are challenging a peaceful and united Europe like never before, Ursula von der Leyen has declared, as she was endorsed as the sole candidate of the EU’s leading political group, the centre-right European People’s Party, to head the European Commission (EC) for another five years.

“They want to trample on our values, and they want to destroy our Europe. And we, the EPP, will never let that happen,” she said at the EPP conference in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.

Dr von der Leyen won overwhelming but not unanimous backing for her candidacy for a second term as the president of the EU’s executive body, with 400 delegates supporting her and 89 voting against. The backing comes before an EU-wide parliamentary election in June that will lead to the appointment of a new slate of top officials – including the head of the European Commission.

If approved by leaders of the EU’s 27 member countries, she will have another term charting the bloc’s policies on matters ranging from big tech and state aid to screening Chinese investments and sanctions against Russia.


She vowed to advance EU economies, clamp down on the smugglers driving irregular immigration to the bloc and strengthen competitiveness, as well as to support farmers as costs of living rise.

Dr von der Leyen also promised more financial and military aid to Ukraine. “Prosperity, security, democracy – this is what people care about in these difficult times,” she said. “In times of change, Europe has your back.”

She was speaking on the same day that Sweden formally joined the Nato military alliance, a move prompted by Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking about his decision to support Dr von der Leyen for a second term, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said she did a “great job during her five years as president of the commission”.

“She’s been very good on Ukraine, she’s been very good on Covid and very good on climate and nature,” he told reporters in Bucharest. “And [she was] very helpful to Ireland on Brexit; she very much had our back when it comes to Brexit.”

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that he and Dr von der Leyen had differences of opinion on Israel and Gaza, but said “her position is much more centred than it was at the start [of the war]”.

“It was crucially important that the European Union took the decision to restore funding and to increase funding to Palestinians for their humanitarian needs. It was her decision to do that,” he said.

Also in Bucharest was the recently elected Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, who warned that Europe’s postwar era of “blissful calm” had gone. “We are living in new times, in a pre-war epoch,” he said.

“Europe wanted to live and develop itself in a postwar world,” Mr Tusk told those present, echoing others in recent weeks who have said that the post-Cold-War optimism about an era of permanent peace was delusional. However, he added “there is no objective reason to capitulate before evil”, telling the audience that every person had the means to stop unwelcome forces in Europe through the power of the ballot box in June.

Dr von der Leyen’s highest-profile achievement in her first term, the European “green deal”, is turning politically toxic, with farmers mobilising across Europe. Faced with growing discontent and far-right parties riding high in polls, she has made climate concerns a lower priority since announcing her run for re-election a few weeks ago. In another shift, the EPP is now calling for asylum seekers to be moved to “safe third countries” to assess their claims in its manifesto adopted at the congress on Wednesday.

Dr von der Leyen appeared to be “looking for votes further to the right”, Thierry Chopin, a special adviser at the Jacques Delors Institute, said – in particular by moving closer to the Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, with whom she recently travelled to Kyiv. – Guardian