Von der Leyen’s rocky road to a second term as President of the European Commission 

Following the European election results, Ursula von der Leyen faces an uphill struggle to confirmation as President of the Commission for a second term, writes Catherine E. De Vries. The key question is how she is going to be able to satisfy very different demands from the various groupings 

Winners and losers 

When the results of the 2024 European Parliament elections were announced, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared that the pro-European centre had held. She also claimed that her lead candidacy for the European People’s Party (EPP) had been a success:

GroupPartial Result 20242019 ResultChange
Centre-right EPP group1871789
Centre-left S&D group136140-4
National-conservative ECR group826814
Liberal Renew group81102-21
Right-wing ID group64595
Greens/EFA group5472-18
Left group40373
Source: Europe Elects

Von der Leyen’s own centre-right party grouping had indeed gained seats. The centre-left grouping Socialists & Democrats were predicted to lose only a few. The third party grouping of the centre, the liberal Renew, fared considerably worse. Liberal losses were among the steepest in the elections, across member states including Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. But it was the poor showing by the party of French president Emmanuel Macron, Renaissance, that received the bulk of post-election news coverage.

The far-right party of Marine Le Pen, Rassemblement National, gained more than twice the votes of Renaissance. Macron’s response, calling a snap election (first round in June, second round in July) surprised even party insiders. It is a big gamble, and a campaign for the political heart of France, one of the European Union’s most important member states.  

Battle for the top EU jobs begins 

Media coverage over the coming weeks will focus on the battle for political leadership of Brussels. With the results of the European Parliament election now official, the wrangling for the top jobs in the EU begins. The role of President of the Commission is surely one of the most important. 

With the victory of the European People’s Party – which outperformed pre-election predictions – and the resounding win for her own Christian Democratic Party in Germany, von der Leyen should be the clear favourite for the Commission President job. In 2019, she was piloted in after the vote. This time around she was the leading candidate. 

During her first term in office, von der Leyen gained significant name recognition and secured substantial public approval

My research with Simon Hix and Isabell Hoffmann reveals that, during her first term in office, von der Leyen gained significant name recognition and secured substantial public approval. These factors undoubtedly contributed to the good showing of her party group, the European People’s Party.  

The 2019 experience 

This does not make a second term for von der Leyen inevitable, however. Indeed, if she gets the nomination, the road to confirmation will be a rocky one. 

In this context, it is important to recall that the Commission’s confirmation of von der Leyen in 2019 was far from straightforward. Her majority in Parliament was razor thin, with only a nine-vote margin. Securing this majority required considerable concessions and backroom deals, not only with the three centrist party groupings but also, especially, with the Greens. 

 In order to secure a path to confirmation, von der Leyen will need great negotiation skills

In 2019, the overall majority of the three centrist party groupings was much larger than it is today. So, in order to secure a path to confirmation, von der Leyen will need great negotiation skills. This is where it gets complicated.  

Complex negotiations ahead 

True, compared with 2019, von der Leyen has more options. She can negotiate with the Greens and left groups, as well as with the radical right. Yet, how she will be able to propose legislative proposals that will satisfy both, remains unclear. The left and green groups will want concessions so that the European Green Deal will be left untouched and migration policy does not become too restrictive. The radical right will want the exact opposite. Therefore, von der Leyen and her party group will have to think hard about how to appease both camps.  

Government leaders will likely only want to commit to a candidate that could reliably secure a majority for the Commission proposal in Parliament

Such trade-offs are particularly sensitive within the European Union context. The European Council proposes the candidate for the Commission presidency and the Commission itself before the confirmation vote in the European Parliament. This means that government leaders will likely only want to commit to a candidate that could reliably secure a majority for the Commission proposal in Parliament.  

As a result, von der Leyen will have to negotiate with both institutions. These negotiations will happen simultaneously, adding to the complexity of her path to a second term.  

President of the European Commission: a top political job  

The road to confirmation will likely be complicated for von der Leyen. This in itself signals an important development in European politics. For decades, many have perceived the European Union to be too technocratic and distant. But more recently, the fight for the European Union’s top jobs has become highly anticipated and much more political.

Navigating a more political Commission and more difficult nomination process will be difficult for all involved. But it shows clearly that the outcome of the European Parliament elections matters, and has an impact on what happens in Brussels. This also signals to voters that it matters who will lead the European Commission, in terms of personality and policies.  

The elections for the second largest democratic assembly body in the world, after the parliament in India, are finally becoming more important for the policy direction of the European Union, and for how Europe resonates with voters. Regardless of the outcome of the coming leadership battle, these elections are good news for democracy in the European Union.  

This is an amended version of the author's blog piece A Second Term for Ursula Von der Leyen? The Rocky Road Ahead, published by Bocconi

This article presents the views of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the ECPR or the Editors of The Loop.


photograph of Catherine E. De Vries
Catherine E. De Vries
Generali Chair in European Policies and Professor of Political Science, Bocconi University

Catherine’s research focuses on the interplay between domestic and international politics, with a geographical focus on the European continent and the European Union.

She is particularly interested in understanding how and why international cooperation is increasingly being challenged by domestic opposition and nationalist political forces, and how international migration shapes politics in both advanced industrial economies (as in her work on Euroscepticism and political entrepreneurs) and middle and low income countries (as in her work on financial remittances).



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One comment on “Von der Leyen’s rocky road to a second term as President of the European Commission ”

  1. I absolutely agree with the analysis here, and Prof. De Vries' article is most informative. I think she is correct to note that the political negotiations over der Leyen's candidacy can be seen as good news for democracy. However, whilst policy analysts, political elites, and academics likely understand that connection, I wonder whether the same can be said of the broader public, and whether negotiations such as these will actually do some good in terms of addressing the democratic deficit?

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