Von der Leyen’s safe Commission

Billed as a safe pair of hands, Ursula von der Leyen is about to find out that caution can only take her so far.


Earlier this year, when Ursula von der Leyen was nominated as president of the European Commission, it was the result of a grand bargain among member states and political groups, which were divided over who should get to lead the commission. One of the reasons she was an acceptable compromise was that she was assumed to be a safe pair of hands. As a seasoned politician with the confidence of a broad range of member states—leaders as diverse as France’s Emmanuel Macron and Hungary’s Viktor Orban claimed her nomination as their success—she would be able to steer the European Union to calmer waters after a turbulent few years.

Von der Leyen continued to play the safety card in the allocation of roles within her commission last week, giving both the larger member states and smaller member states some of what they want in the heavyweight portfolios; her vice presidential nominees boast a sensible gender and regional balance. But caution, as a strategy, has its limits. Her failure to make a strong stand on some of the big division issues for Europe today may spell trouble for a commission that needs to look radically different from the one that her predecessor presided over. With inertia around burden-sharing when it came to the migration crisis and a slow response to clear breaches of European values by EU member states such as Hungary and Poland, the last commission did not appear up to the challenges of the day.

To read the full article, please visit the original, published on 19 September by Foreign Policy, here.

The European Council on Foreign Relations does not take collective positions. ECFR publications only represent the views of their individual authors.


Senior Director for Strategy and Transformation
Senior Policy Fellow

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