Published: 10:34, February 21, 2024 | Updated: 10:39, February 21, 2024
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Von der Leyen makes bid for 2nd EU term
By ​Chen Weihua in Brussels

Ukraine conflict and bleak forecast for economy add to challenges facing bloc

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen holds a news conference after the CDU Federal Executive Committee meeting in Berlin on Feb 19, 2024. (PHOTO / AP)

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has announced her bid to seek a second term amid multiple challenges in the European Union.

She made the announcement on Monday afternoon in Berlin after a meeting with her party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany. The party is part of the center-right European People's Party, or EPP, the largest political group in the European Parliament.

The EPP will decide on her candidacy when it meets in Bucharest on March 6 and 7. EPP President Manfred Weber said on the X platform on Monday that "a strong Europe needs strong leadership from the @EPP and Ursula von der Leyen".

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"The world today is completely different from it was in 2019. We've been through a lot together over the past five years, and I think you could say we've accomplished more than we could ever imagine," the 65-year-old von der Leyen said.

"In these five years, not only has my passion for Europe grown, but, of course, also my experience of how much this Europe can achieve for its people."

She described the last five years as challenging as it had been extraordinary.

Von der Leyen was faced with Brexit after taking office on Dec 1, 2019. A few months later, the world was hit with COVID-19.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has hurt EU member states since it broke out nearly two years ago, when EU economies were already battered by the pandemic.

The European Commission's Winter Forecast released last week marked down growth in both the EU and eurozone for 2024 and 2025. Deutsche Bundesbank, Germany's central bank, warned on Monday that the country is likely to plunge into recession.

Public discontent in the EU has been rising over issues such as migration, rising living costs and lack of progress on the Green Deal. Farmers in some EU states have continued their protests, including in the Czech Republic's capital Prague on Monday.

Triggering protests

Von der Leyen's words in support of Israel over the Israel-Palestine conflict have triggered some protests, including a protest letter by more than 800 former and current EU staff members.

At her news conference on Monday, she did not really talk about climate change. Instead, she focused on competitiveness, migration and defense. She had earlier mentioned that she wanted to create a new commissioner for the defense post and boost the EU's military might.

Lai Suetyi, an associate professor of the Center for European Studies at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, said von der Leyen's potential second term means continuity for the current policies of the European Commission.

"This is important in our time, which has already been full of changes and uncertainties," she said.

Highlighting the challenges ahead for von der Leyen, Alberto Alemanno, EU law professor at the Belgium-based College of Europe, said she could face pressure from her own party to "undo her major achievements during her tenure — from delaying climate action to suspending the enlargement and reform" of the 27-nation bloc.

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"For @vonderleyen to shape a new majority, she'll need to deliver on EU reform, defense and rule of law … and not backtrack on environment and migration," Guy Verhofstadt, a member of the European Parliament of the Renew group, said on X.

Von der Leyen, regarded as a pro-US politician, got the job in 2019 after winning a narrow victory with the support of EPP, the Socialists& Democrats and the liberal Renew group.

But the widely expected rise of far-right parties in the June 6-9 European elections is likely to pose a challenge to her bid to keep her job for another five years.

Surveys among voters show that extreme-right, anti-immigrant parties may gain more seats in the next European Parliament elections, pushing EU legislation toward the right.

Agencies contributed to this story.