Pieter Cleppe

An Ursula von der Leyen presidency would be a huge victory for Angela Merkel

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen has been put forward by European leaders as the candidate to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as the President of the EU Commission, a powerful position. If she is approved by the EU Parliament (which is not yet certain) it would be a victory for German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and a bad thing for Europe.

Von der Leyen attended the European School in Brussels, just like Boris Johnson. Like Boris, she’s the child of a European Commission official, but that’s where her similarities with the potential prime minister end. She wants a ‘United States of Europe’, a political union for the Eurozone and a ‘European army’, even if her own track record as defence minister ‘is regarded as a failure among friends and foes alike’. Rupert Scholz, who was defence minister under former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl thinks that the German army’s ‘condition is catastrophic’, something he calls ‘totally irresponsible’.

Are we then witnessing something similar to an episode of the Danish political drama Borgen, where an elder politician is promoted to Brussels against their will? Not really. German Chancellor Merkel values the European Commission job highly. In August 2018, the German daily Handelsblatt reported that Merkel was no longer aiming to secure the ‘top job’ of president of the European Central Bank (ECB) for a German, and would instead push for Germany to obtain the EU Commission Presidency. Already, von der Leyen’s name was being floated.

Interestingly, it was not Merkel but French President Macron who first came up on Monday with von der Leyen’s name, when socialist Dutchman Frans Timmermans was opposed by the Eurosceptic governments of Italy and Central and Eastern Europe. This very much looks like a traditional EU negotiation: France and Germany dividing the two top jobs amongst each other, by first putting a candidate forward to be ‘burned’.

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