March 6, 2024
Second Von der Leyen term would be bad for Ireland & EU

Second Von der Leyen term would be bad for Ireland & EU

It is rare for any EU official to be as well-known as Ursula von der Leyen. Her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, was certainly a character and no stranger to the headlines but he was not a household name in the way Ursula von der Leyen is today. 

This is by no means a compliment or endorsement of von der Leyen. The opposite in fact. Ursula von der Leyen has been a divisive figure as head of the European Commission. She has overstepped her mandate and role on several occasions, damaging the office and EUs place in the world. She must not be given a second term. 

Aside from her historic appointment in 2019, von der Leyen was not really talked about in the media much. A few articles and news items here and there. But for Ireland, she jumped onto our newspapers and screens in early 2021. In the middle of efforts to procure vaccines, her Commission triggered Article 16 of the Irish Protocol in an effort to control vaccine exports to the north of Ireland. This unilateral move was made without consulting either Dublin or Belfast and damaged the Commissions reputation, giving ammunition to those forces in the north of Ireland hostile to the protocol.

There are also legitimate questions over her unprofessional handling of the process of awarding contracts for COVID-19 vaccines. The European Ombudsman criticised von der Leyen’s secrecy over SMS exchanges with Pfizer’s Chief Executive while the contract negotiations were underway. The perception of dodgy back-room deals cannot be overlooked. In a time where there is often mistrust in such institutions – We must demand all officials, elected or otherwise, conduct their work in maximum transparency in order to eliminate any and all risks for confidence to diminish. We must work harder to restore trust in our institutions, not reward those who weaken that trust. 

Of course, from an Irish perspective, where both the government and the public would most strongly disagree with von der Leyen, would be her handling of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Her handling of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has severely damaged the European Union´s credibility as a partner for peace and an honest broker for any future negotiations. Her initial response in backing Israel unconditionally has emboldened their brutal strategy of murder in Gaza. Her unwillingness to call for an immediate ceasefire and sustainable peace is a mark of shame for the European Union and highlights that she is unfit for a second term as President of the European Commission. 

This litany of misstep and ill judgement  leads me to believe that a second term would be disastrous for Ireland and for Europe. But when you look at what she wishes to do – There is even more cause for concern. 

Von der Leyen is one of the EUs driving forces behind the growing militarisation agenda, which disrespects Ireland’s long held neutrality. Upon launching her bid for a second term, she commented that she only wanted to work with those who are pro-NATO. Does this mean she does not want to work with Ireland or any of Ireland’s main political parties? After all, we all support neutrality (Or claim to). How can Fine Gael allow their political group’s lead candidate be so indifferent to Irelands long held policy of neutrality? 

Von der Leyen has said, if re-appointed she wants a new EU defence commissioner. Does this align with what the people of Ireland want? In the midst of a cost of living crisis, climate crisis and so on – The solution is an EU defence commissioner?. Such comments and commitments should be called out by the Irish government and resisted by Irish MEPs. The electorate deserves clarity too. 

All MEP candidates must make it clear whether or not they will support a second term for Ursula von der Leyen. What is at stake is too great and too important for us to give such a position to somebody who has done so much damage to the institution she is tasked with representing. The Irish government and MEPs must insist upon a Commission president aligned with the values of the Irish people. ENDS

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