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Ursula von der Leyen announces bid for second term as head of European Union Commission

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Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen will seek a second term as head of the European Union’s powerful Commission in a move that could make her the most significant politician representing the bloc’s 450 million citizens in over a generation.

Following five years of leading the 27-nation bloc through multiple crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic and the first two years of Russia’s war in Ukraine, the 65-year-old was put forward by her German Christian Democratic Union party and will only need a further rubber stamp when the party’s European umbrella group meets early next month in Bucharest.

She said that even if she accepted in 2019 to become the Commission’s chief on an intuitive whim when asked by EU leaders, it is now a very conscious choice.

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“Today, five years later, I am making a very conscious and well-considered decision. I want to run for a second term,” she said in Berlin after a CDU board meeting.

She also stands a good chance of extending her reign over the executive Commission since the Christian Democrat-dominated European People’s Party is expected to remain the biggest in the legislature following the June 6-9 European elections.

She flaunted her progressive credentials early on by pushing through a Green Deal aiming to make the EU climate-neutral by 2050. It put the bloc at the forefront of the global fight against climate change and amounted to a sea change in EU policy.

However, with Europe’s political mood shifting recently to the right, von der Leyen acknowledged the changes. “The world is totally different compared to five years ago,” she said in her nomination acceptance speech.

She was among the most outspoken defenders of Israel since the war erupted with the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel — even as international outrage over the Israeli offensive grew. Her green credentials also have been sorely dented as she appeared to side with farmers during the past weeks of relentless farming protests throughout the bloc.

In her next term, she wants to appoint a defense commissioner for the first time after Russia’s aggressive posture and a weaker trans-Atlantic link made it clear that the defense capabilities of EU nations were mostly sorely lacking.

She said a defense commissioner would have to make sure that “better investment is made, and where we can achieve greater interoperability for our armed forces in the production of the weapons systems.”

Von der Leyen has been an unwavering ally of Ukraine, and she has staunchly defended President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as his nation faces two years of Russia’s aggression. Beyond pushing for sanctions against Russia, she has equally worked to get financial aid to Kyiv and fought to open EU membership talks with Ukraine.

Overall, it has turned the physician and mother of seven into the most prominent EU Commission president since Frenchman Jacques Delors during the 1990s.

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Even if the EPP emerges from the elections as the biggest party, it does not give her an automatic right to extend her posting. The leaders of the 27 member states must approve her, and it is part of a mix of decisions on the EU top post, from the bloc’s foreign policy chief to the parliament president. Almost half of the EU’s 27 national leaders are members of the EPP.

After protracted haggling over such posts five years ago, von der Leyen herself came out of the blue to claim the position after receiving critical support from French President Emmanuel Macron.

With the continuing war in Ukraine and the possible election of Donald Trump as U.S. president in November, EU leaders will unlikely be prone to experiment too much with the helm of the Commission.

The final hurdle would be approval by the EU Parliament, and with the right’s rise expected to show in the June elections, it could end up being a steep hurdle.

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