BERLIN — Ursula von der Leyen won’t run in Germany for a seat in the European Parliament in next year’s EU election — but may nevertheless become the center right’s lead candidate for a second term as president of the European Commission.
The German politician told her local branch of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the state of Lower Saxony that she doesn’t want a spot on the regional candidate list for the European Parliament election taking place next June, according to three CDU officials.
The European election takes place in all 27 member countries of the European Union, and decides which parties — and by extension, which individuals in them — shall hold key positions in European institutions. Currently, the pan-continental European People’s Party (EPP) is leading in polls.
Germany’s center-right CDU, which at the EU level is affiliated with the EPP, nominates its candidates for the European Parliament via local ballots. This means that von der Leyen would in theory need to run on the list of CDU candidates on the Lower Saxony ballot in order to be elected to Parliament as an EPP member — while at the same time being the EPP’s lead candidate, or Spitzenkandidat.
Yet the three CDU officials, who were granted anonymity in order to speak freely about internal party dynamics, told POLITICO that von der Leyen will not have to make that election bid in order to become the EPP’s Spitzenkandidat.
Earlier this year, two officials affiliated with German conservatives, likewise granted anonymity, told POLITICO at a gathering in Munich that they expected von der Leyen would have to go through the pain of running for a seat in Lower Saxony in order to win the stamp of democratic legitimacy and obtain the EPP’s nomination as its lead candidate. Those officials did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
The issue of democratic legitimacy is particularly sensitive to some conservatives, given that von der Leyen was handpicked by European leaders over the EPP’s lead candidate at the time, Manfred Weber, to become Commission president in 2019.
The German news outlet Niedersachsen Rundblick first reported Wednesday that von der Leyen would not run as a member of the European Parliament “but should nevertheless become Spitzenkandidat,” without citing any source for this piece of information.
Von der Leyen’s State of the Union speech on Wednesday was widely seen as an effort to plant the seeds for her reelection bid, even though she hasn’t officially announced her candidacy.
One of the three CDU officials told POLITICO that it is not seen as technically necessary for von der Leyen to go through a vote for an EU lawmaker position. “Realistically, if she’s running to be reelected as Commission president, she won’t serve a single minute as a member of the European Parliament,” the official said.
A Commission official close to von der Leyen declined to comment on her apparent decision not to run for Parliament. Asked about her potential plan to run as lead candidate for the EPP, the official said that “the president has not made a decision.”
The EPP is expected to decide who its lead candidate will be by early next year. If von der Leyen is the nominee, she would feature prominently in the party’s campaign — despite not appearing on any ballot.
The Spitzenkandidat system was set up in 2014 in a bid to democratize EU elections, allowing European political parties to publicly present their top candidates for key positions such as Commission president. Despite that, it ultimately remains up to EU heads of state and government in the European Council to choose who they want for the job — as they did in 2019.
Nicholas Vinocour contributed reporting from Brussels.