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Von der Leyen set to seek second EU term

Ursula von der Leyen is poised to announce her bid for a second term as chief of the European Commission, at a time when the bloc’s unity faces strong headwinds from the far-right.

At the helm since 2019, the 65-year-old had led the bloc’s executive body as the EU traversed an extraordinary period of disruptions – from Brexit to the coronavirus pandemic to Russia’s invasion of its pro-EU neighbour Ukraine.

Hendrik Wuest, a key figure in Ms von der Leyen’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party in Germany, said her new bid would be a much needed constant at a time of uncertainties.

“A second term would be a sign of stability, that is all the more needed at a time when our European values are being attacked from all sides,” he told news site Politico.

Ms von der Leyen’s candidacy is expected to be announced at around midday at a press conference at the CDU’s headquarters in Berlin.

The broader alliance of conservatives across the bloc – the European People’s Party group to which the CDU belongs – would then name her as its lead candidate for the post in Bucharest on 6-7 March, EPP leader Manfred Weber has said.

Ms von der Leyen, a protege of former German chancellor Angela Merkel who has served as minister on all four of her cabinets, is the first woman to lead the commission.

A second Von der Leyen commission would likely find itself with a changed political landscape.

Voter surveys suggest extreme-right, anti-immigrant parties across Europe will grab more seats in European Parliament elections on 6-9 June, pushing the legislature to the right.

That could slow progress towards European Union green transition that Ms von der Leyen had made a cornerstone of her first term. It could also grow the cohort of MEPs sympathetic to Donald Trump should he regain the White House.

Firm on Ukraine support

MEP Daniel Caspary of the CDU said he expected her priorities to shift, with more concessions to Europe’s farmers, though her support for Ukraine and for sanctions against Russia were likely to remain.

Underlining the crucial importance of standing firmly behind Kyiv, Ms von der Leyen told the Munich Security Conference over the weekend that it was “much more than a question of Russia-Ukraine.

“It’s a question of whether democracies globally prevail, and are we able to defend and protect our values. And the answer has to be yes,” she stressed.

With her next term to possibly coincide with a return by Mr Trump, who has rattled NATO allies by threatening to abandon those who fail to meet their defence spending commitments, Ms von der Leyen also voiced the importance of building a “strong Europe”.

The bloc has to boost its defence resources – improving spending on defence production and ensuring that the manufacturing is done in Europe so that billions in taxpayers’ funds are channelled to companies that are creating jobs on the continent.

Ms von der Leyen also outlined plans to “install a commissioner for defence” if she won a new term.

“And where he or she is coming from – this is open but of course I think it’s very important for the central and eastern European countries to have good portfolios and this is a good portfolio,” she said.

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