How Ukraine became center of debates among candidates for European Commission president

Wednesday, 1 May 2024 —

The lead candidates in the European elections held first ever debates ahead of the European Parliament elections, including the incumbent EC President, Ursula von der Leyen. The event took place on 29 April in Dutch Maastricht.

Hundreds of young Europeans under 29 were invited to the meeting for debating what the young generations choose for the future. Turnout in the June elections among young voters is expected to be higher than average. In several EU countries, the voting age has been lowered.

Youth selected three main topics to ask the candidates: foreign and security policy, climate change and democracy in the EU.

Read more about what the top contender to preside over the European Commission promises to the EU and her policy towards Ukraine in the article by Maksym Valchuk, KU Leuven University (Belgium) master's student – Ursula against all: How debates of contenders to preside over the European Commission went.


The discussion in Maastricht was not aimed at electing a winner but rather at outlining the positions of key European parties and their "electoral leaders," although the most likely winner is already known in advance.

This is the incumbent President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, a German candidate from the European People's Party. Therefore, it is worth paying attention to her statements.

In the event of reappointment, Ursula von der Leyen will have to cooperate with other parties in the European Parliament and garner the support of some of them for her approval.

These debates clarified who could enter the future European "coalition".

"I will not enter into a coalition with those who do not support Ukraine, do not care about the climate and do not respect the rule of law," said the President of the European Commission about the three criteria for forming a coalition.

Although she seems open to unexpected options.

When asked about a coalition with the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR), which includes, for example, the party of the pro-Russian French politician Eric Zemmour, she replied that it depends on the composition of the European Parliament and who gets elected there.

This response surprised candidates from the liberals and social democrats, whose votes helped her secure the position in 2019.

A member of her current "team," the European Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights and a candidate from the European Socialists, Nicolas Schmit, reminded von der Leyen that party ideology does not depend on the parliament composition.

Although this criticism does not necessarily mean that von der Leyen will lose the support of the same social democrats, forming the new EU government.

Ultimately, it is now clear that the European People's Party, which nominated her, will become the largest party in the new European Parliament.

However, Ursula von der Leyen will have to strike a delicate balance between former allies (liberals and social democrats) and already "announced" potential allies – conservatives, convincing them that she is needed by Europe as the EC head for the next five years.

Of course, Ukraine could not be left out of the agenda.

The EC President remains consistent in her support for Ukraine on its path to the European Union and against Russia's armed aggression.

In addition, Ursula von der Leyen confirmed that the creation of the position of European Commissioner for Defence is still part of her plans in the event of reappointment.

She also assured that she intends to continue implementing the "European Green Deal," maintaining the goal of further reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transforming Europe into a climate-neutral continent by 2050.

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