Von der Leyen future in doubt as allies abandon ‘exposed’ EU chief

Von der Leyen left in awkward silence as EU diplomats fail to clap

Ursula von der Leyen is looking increasingly “exposed” a year before the end of her first term as President of the European Commission, insiders have claimed.

Former German defence minister Ms von der Leyen was appointed to the powerful post – heading up the executive of the European Union – in 2019, succeeding Jean-Claude Juncker.

During the intervening four years, she has had to contend with the global pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. She remains the most powerful woman in Europe, she has not yet confirmed whether she will seek a second five-year term.

Against such a backdrop of uncertainty, Frans Timmermans, who was beaten to the top job by Ms von der Leyen and who is now executive vice president, on Thursday threw his hat into the ring for the Prime Minister of the Netherlands after the collapse of Mark Rutte’s Government.

Meanwhile, Margrethe Vestager, another of her executive vice presidents, has declared her interest in the job position of European Investment Bank chief. If her bid is successful, she will be gone by the autumn.

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Additionally, Mariya Gabriel, the EU’s Commissioner for Innovation and Research, has also quit and is now serving as minister for foreign affairs in her native Bulgaria, and Agriculture Commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has faced accusations that he is neglecting his duties in favour of spending time in Poland.

A European Commission spokesman rejected suggestions that Ms von der Leyen’s authority had been undermined as a result, telling Politico: “These are two executive vice presidents who are coming to the end of their second mandate as commissioners.

“In fact, it’s a testament to their work as commissioners that they are now contenders for senior jobs in EU and domestic politics.”

However, one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “In the dynamics of the Commission, she is now more exposed than she has ever been.”

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The loss of key allies had left the 64-year-old hanging “in the wind”, they added.

Another added: “This is where the problem of her not previously being a prime minister has surfaced.

“Anyone who has run a government knows that you need to bring people along – consult, make concessions.”

A third official continued: “She does not embody collegiality. On so many topics, commissioners discover things via the media. People feel that she’s doing her own thing – not that they’re necessarily bad – but that she does not encourage discussion or debate.”

While Ms von der Leyen would likely earn a second term should she seek one, given she has the backing of Berlin, there has been speculation that she has her eye on the role of NATO secretary-general.

The post is currently occupied by Jens Stoltenberg – but his tenure is due to end in October 2024.

An insider from the European People’s Party, with which Ms von der Leyen is affiliated, said there was growing unrest within the group of MEPs.

They said: “We don’t know what the hell is going to happen. And we need to know.”

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