Von der Leyen set for second term as European Commission chief

By Thomson Reuters Jun 17, 2024 | 11:57 AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Ursula von der Leyen was expected to secure informal backing on Monday for a second term as president of the European Commission, which sets the EU agenda with legislative proposals, trade investigations and competition adjudication.

Back in 2019, the doctor-turned-German-defence-minister was a surprise pick to head the body, a decision that was only reached after marathon talks between EU leaders. This time round she is very much the front-runner.

Born in Brussels and the mother of seven children, she has chosen to live in a small flat next to her office on the 13th floor of the Commission’s Berlaymont headquarters to avoid the Belgian capital’s traffic.

After securing a narrow majority in the European Parliament, without the backing of the Greens, her Commission launched the Green Deal in December 2019. It proposed a commitment to climate neutrality by 2050, with multiple legislative proposals to reach that goal since then.

Von der Leyen, 65, oversaw the Commission’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included the coordinated purchase and roll-out of vaccines across the bloc and a refusal to suspend the EU’s open internal borders.

She took a leading role again in February 2022 when Russia invaded Ukraine, proposing for the first time that the EU finance and deliver weapons to a country under attack, and advocating that Ukraine be admitted to the European Union.

In her second term, she will no longer have to coordinate policy efforts with European Council President Charles Michel – the former Belgian prime minister with whom she had a frosty relationship – because Michel’s term ends this year.

The tension between the two top EU officials dates back to April 2021, when, during a joint meeting in Ankara, only one seat was set out for the EU by the hosts.

Michel promptly took it, relegating von der Leyen to a nearby sofa – an incident since dubbed “Sofagate”.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by Andrew Heavens)