Road to EU 2024

Von der Leyen Kicks Off Re-election Bid Amid Appointment Controversy

April 2024
By Maximilian Powell

Ursula von der Leyen, current European Commission chief and spitzenkandidat for the centre-right European People’s Party, kickstarted her re-election campaign in Athens on Sunday, vowing to confront and counter the rise of far-right influences aiming to “hijack” Europe’s future, referring to them as “Putin’s friends”.

The choice of Athens as the launchpad for her campaign is seen as strategic, marking the 50th anniversary of Greece’s ruling New Democracy party, a pivotal member of the EPP. The event held significant symbolism, being hosted at the historic Zappeion Hall, where Greece committed to the European Communities in 1979.

Von der Leyen’s campaign management sees the appointment of Björn Seibert, her chief of staff, who has taken a leave of absence to lead her campaign team, including Alexander Winterstein as chief spokesperson. With a campaign budget of €5.27 million allocated by the European People’s Party, Seibert and Winterstein are set to take unpaid leave from their Commission roles until after the election on 10 June. Anthony Whelan, von der Leyen’s adviser on tech and digital policy, will serve as acting head of the Cabinet during Seibert’s absence.

However, von der Leyen’s campaign launch unfolds amidst controversy. MEPs during Thursday’s plenary in Brussels called for the rescindment of her close ally and current EPP MEP Markus Pieper’s appointment as the European Commission’s small business envoy. The move, met with allegations of political cronyism against von der Leyen, has sparked debates within the European Parliament over the principles of merit and balance in her appointments. Despite the MEPs’ vote passing with a significant majority, the extent of its influence over a decision made by a separate EU institution remains uncertain.