Von der Leyen: The first female head of office without democratic legitimacy?

President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen may want to stand for a second term in office, but she definitely does not want to stand and be elected as a candidate for the EU Parliament. This would be the second time that she would become “head of government” of the European Union without even being legitimized by voters. Review: In 2018, von der Leyen was German Defense Minister and was brought to Brussels by then Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron without having previously campaigned for the EU.

If it were to happen again now, it would be grist to the mill of EU critics who have long been criticizing the EU’s understanding of democracy and, for example, calling for a direct election for the highest EU office.

There is idiosyncratic EU logic behind von der Leyen’s decision

The European elections will take place in June 2024. The newly elected European Parliament must then give its approval to a new Commission President proposed by the heads of government. It is said in von der Leyen’s circle that she has not yet decided whether she will seek a second mandate at the head of the EU Commission. However, the decision should be made soon.

Meanwhile, a surprising development is emerging in Lower Saxony. Von der Leyen does not want to run for the European elections in first place on the Lower Saxony CDU state list. She communicated this decision to the CDU state committees.

Nevertheless, according to the party, von der Leyen should become the European People’s Party’s top candidate for the European elections. The EPP is the sister organization of the CDU at the European level. She wants to campaign with her on the posters.

There is a highly idiosyncratic EU logic behind this. It reads: Unlike in federal and state elections, the office of “head of government” of the EU – with which one can compare the position of the Commission President – ​​is incompatible with membership in the EU Parliament. If von der Leyen were to successfully run for the EU Parliament and were to become President of the Commission again, she would have to give up the parliamentary mandate she had just won.

The candidate no one can vote for

The contortions this regulation leads to internally can now be seen in the CDU and its European representation: The EPP is expected to go with von der Leyen in the election campaign – knowing full well that no one can vote for her. In Lower Saxony, former Prime Minister David McAllister is in “first place on the list” for the European elections, but as long as von der Leyen is there, he will never become number one for the CDU and EPP in Europe.

On the other hand, foregoing a parliamentary application also relieves von der Leyen, as stated in “Rundblick”, a state political journal from Hanover. Since the CDU/CSU in Germany is running in the European elections with state lists, a first place on the list for von der Leyen would have meant that she would have had to campaign primarily in Lower Saxony. At the same time, she is likely to be in demand for EPP appearances across the EU, as she is probably needed as an election campaign locomotive by all Christian Democratic and conservative parties in the EU member states.

The process would be ammunition for EU critics like the AfD. At its most recent party conference, the right-wing party decided to push forward a re-establishment of the EU as a “federation of European nations” and to abolish the EU Parliament straight away. Before von der Leyen, Luxembourg’s Jean-Claude Juncker had already taken over the Commission presidency without first joining the parliament to be chosen.

Jean Harris

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