Home European News Von der Leyen has complicated relationship with Germany en route to second mandate – Euractiv

Von der Leyen has complicated relationship with Germany en route to second mandate – Euractiv

Von der Leyen has complicated relationship with Germany en route to second mandate – Euractiv

In her own country, the European Commission president’s green push has made her more popular with political opponents than her own conservative CDU. The tricky relationship reinforces pressure for her to campaign against her own record as she is expected to announce her second-term bid on Monday (19 February).

Few things reflect Ursula von der Leyen’s ambition to shape a “geopolitical Commission” as much as her calendar.

According to the official register on the Commission website, von der Leyen has taken at least 230 official trips to more than 60 countries, from Rwanda to South Korea, during four-and-a-half years in office so far.

However, her home country remains the place the former German defence minister has paid most visits to. The calendar counts 33 trips, more than twice as many as she took to France, the next country in the ranking, excluding Belgium, her base, and trips to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

Over the last two years, the calendar indicates more bilateral meetings with regional German prime ministers than with French President Emmanuel Macron.

“One must not underestimate that von der Leyen remains in effect the German Commissioner,” Johannes Lindner, director of the Jacques Delors Centre think tank, told Euractiv.

While Lindner said that von der Leyen has exhibited a pan-European mindset over her first term, he noted that the frequent visits to Germany reflect that commissioners also “have a great responsibility of promoting the Commission’s policies in their own member states”.

A rollback on the cards?

However, this close relationship with her home country is complicated. It may render von der Leyen vulnerable to pressure to stall or roll back parts of her flagship policy, the Green Deal, if she wins a second mandate.

Her goal of supercharging the EU’s green transition with a mix of incentives and regulation has paradoxically made her popular with Germany’s left-leaning coalition government, but less so in her own centre-right CDU, which is forecast to win the EU elections in Germany.

Notably, a 2023 Forsa survey showed that support among CDU voters for her second term at the helm of the Commission was at the relatively low level of 51% – no higher than among voters of the liberal FDP and Greens, with a majority of Germans opposing another bid.

The CDU is traditionally close to owners of small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) who are critical of a perceived spike in green regulation, which showed at a CDU business conference last month, where industry representatives vented their frustration.

The party’s top brass are chiming in. Manfred Weber, the chief of the EPP, the CDU’s European family, and the lead candidate of the CDU’s Bavarian sister party, CSU, openly advocated a roll-back of the EU ban on combustion engines.

“If the [EPP] can secure a majority after the European elections, we will reverse the ban,” Weber promised in December, claiming elsewhere that the policy harmed Bavaria’s flagship automotive industry.

Still, the CDU is all but certain to announce von der Leyen’s nomination for the EPP’s top job on Monday (19 February), as it is notoriously more likely to clench its teeth than block a path to power for one of their own.

Greens: Von der Leyen has “delivered”

Yet, as EU leaders will have the final say on the presidency, the German government’s approval will play an even more significant role in the road to a second term.

This is where things should get complicated, as Germany’s governing coalition now comprises the centre-left SPD, the Greens, and the pro-market FDP – but not the CDU, unlike when von der Leyen assumed her post.

Both the SPD chancellery and the Green-led foreign ministry are still keeping their cards close to their chest, refusing to confirm if they will support von der Leyen ahead of the election.

However, low SPD polling numbers aside, resistance from the side of the coalition does not seem likely, Jacques Delors’ Lindner said, pointing also to the Social Democrats’ pick of Luxembourgish EU Commissioner Nicolas Schmit as von der Leyen’s challenger for the EU elections in June. 

“In comparison to options that were discussed (…), Schmit is a less high-profile pick, which might show that the SPD has already accepted that von der Leyen will succeed with her bid,” Lindner said.

The remarkably positive feedback for von der Leyen from leading Green and SPD lawmakers appears to confirm that.

Anton Hofreiter, the influential Green chair of the Bundestag’s European Affairs committee, told Euractiv that von der Leyen “proved she can deliver”.

“From a Green perspective, the Green Deal in particular is a success, even if it has not yet been fully implemented,” Hofreiter noted.

Christian Petry, the SPD’s lead MP on European affairs, also acknowledged that the Commission president “did a decent job whenever she stuck to the agenda that she promised to the European Parliament when she was elected”.

His FDP counterpart Thomas Hacker was more demanding, saying FDP support depended on von der Leyen “adapting and completing the internal market to the new international reality, freeing the European economy from bureaucracy”.

However, if she failed with her bid, the coalition agreement would see the Greens pick the next German commissioner. With a Green choice likely to diverge further from the FDP, the liberals might not be inclined to oppose von der Leyen, Lindner pointed out.

VdL-1 versus VdL-2

But the pressure from her own party still creates a twisted situation, in which von der Leyen, as a lead candidate, will have to campaign against her record as a Commission president.

Signs of a U-turn have been accumulating since last summer. In her State of the Union address in the European Parliament last September, von der Leyen placed notable emphasis on “competitiveness” and business-friendly rhetoric.


Her previous term has shown that von der Leyen is willing and able to pull off a significant U-turn in her policy.

When her confirmation as Commission president depended on a European Parliament washed by a Green tide, von der Leyen embraced the Green Deal as her trademark. 

Now, her bid hinges on the CDU leadership vote, and it is the stage at the CDU headquarters in Berlin where von der Leyen will in all likelihood announce her bid around lunchtime on Monday – with CDU leader Merz by her side to plug in his national agenda.

“Cutting red tape, competitiveness, caution about further climate regulation, and migration — those are the keywords Merz will probably use on Monday,” Lindner said.  

“And von der Leyen will probably also make it clear that she will focus a little more on those CDU issues in her second term.”

[Edited by Nathalie Weatherald]

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