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EU Leaders Pick von der Leyen for Second Term as Commission Chief

Published: June 30, 2024
(Image: Estonia's Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen take part in a press conference during a European Union leaders' summit in Brussels, Belgium June 28, 2024. REUTERS/Yves Herman)

On June 27 (Thursday), European Union leaders agreed to nominate Ursula von der Leyen for a second five-year term as president of the European Commission, the EU’s powerful executive body.

At a summit in Brussels, the bloc’s 27 national leaders also picked former Portuguese premier Antonio Costa as the future chair of their European Council.

They also elected Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as the next EU foreign policy chief.

The President of the EU Council Charles Michel, told reporters early on Friday morning: “Mission accomplished! The European Council has delivered.” 

The trio won broad backing, but right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni abstained from the vote on von der Leyen and voted against Costa and Kallas.

Meloni said on X that she decided not to support the leadership slate “out of respect for the citizens and the indications that came from those citizens during the elections”.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, another right-winger, voted against von der Leyen and did not vote for Kallas..

Von der Leyen’s nomination still needs approval from the European Parliament in a secret ballot. That is widely seen as a trickier proposition than her endorsement by EU leaders.

The leadership package would seem balanced politically as well as geographically. Von der Leyen, of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), hails from the center-right, Costa from the center-left and Kallas from Europe’s liberal group.

“This is an enormous responsibility in this time of geopolitical tensions. There’s war in Europe, but there’s also growing instability globally,” Kallas told reporters.

Costa said he would be “fully committed to promoting unity among the 27 member states” in his new role.

At the summit, the EU also signed a security agreement with Ukraine, debated how to bolster EU defenses against the Russian invasion and agreed on the bloc’s strategic priorities for the next five years.

The agreement lays out the EU’s commitments to help Ukraine in nine areas of security policy, including arms deliveries, military training, defense industry cooperation, and demining.

“These commitments will help Ukraine defend itself, resist destabilization, and deter future acts of aggression — more concrete proof of the EU’s unshakeable resolve to support Ukraine for the long haul,” Michel said.

Diplomats said von der Leyen told the summit how during the last 30 years, unlike the EU, China and Russia have invested massively on defense.

According to diplomats, von der Leyen told leaders the EU needed to invest 500 billion euros ($535.30 billion) into the military industry over the next 10 years.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz dismissed any plans of joint EU financing for defense. “Do I want to accept sovereign bonds, Eurobonds being used to finance armaments? No,” he told reporters after the meeting.

The agenda also calls for a more competitive EU to withstand economic pressure from China and the United States, and preparing the bloc for enlargement to include Ukraine, Moldova, and the Western Balkans.

Reuters contributed to this report.