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Von der Leyen wins conservatives' backing to lead EU

By Chen Weihua in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2024-03-09 07:13

Ursula von der Leyen (center) is applauded by other leaders at a gathering of her center-right European People's Party in Romania's capital Bucharest on Thursday. DANIEL MIHAILESCU/AFP

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen cleared the path for seeking a second five-year term on Thursday, after the European People's Party, or EPP, the party she belongs to and the largest political group in the European Parliament, chose her as its lead candidate.

With 801 EPP delegates with the right to vote at its congress in Romania's capital Bucharest, von der Leyen, the only candidate on the ballot, won 400 of the 489 valid votes cast. It is still unclear why more than 300 delegates did not vote.

The EPP gathering was held ahead of the European elections in early June, as Europe continues to face multiple challenges such as the Russia-Ukraine conflict, economic slowdown and the ongoing farmers' protests.

"We are the party of the people and we deliver on what people care about," von der Leyen told the congress.

While EPP leader Manfred Weber voiced support for von der Leyen, Eric Ciotti, president of the Les Republicains party in France, criticized von der Leyen in a letter to Weber on Wednesday, saying that she embodied a "technocratic drift" that has alienated the European Union from Europeans it claims to serve.

Meanwhile, two of the three Slovenian conservative parties in the EPP group blasted von der Leyen for her "weak" leadership and diminished green credentials.

Von der Leyen's main rival in June will likely be Nicolas Schmit, who is the European commissioner for jobs and social rights. He was selected to be the candidate of the Party of European Socialists, or PES, at the party congress in Rome on Saturday.

"We will not allow that Europe will take the path of austerity and social repression as it did during the financial crisis. This is the main argument, this is why we want to win these elections, together, in all 27 member states," he said.

PES was represented by the Socialists and Democrats, the second-largest political group, in the European Parliament.

News site Euractiv cited an EPP source as saying that EPP will seek a pro-centrist pro-EU coalition with forces such as the socialists and liberals despite their policy disagreements.

"The Greens seem to turn left because of their worsening performance in polls," said the source, adding that their unpragmatic approach to the Green Deal implementation poses challenges for collaboration.

The latest projections from Europe Elects shows that the EPP, socialists and liberals will form a 403-member majority in the next European Parliament.

The EU has seen the rise of farright politicians. Polls by Politico showed that both the right-wing populist and far-right extremist factions could win more seats in the June elections.

Agencies contributed to the story.



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