Are the Walls Finally Closing In on Ursula von der Leyen?

Creeping censorship, corruption, authoritarianism, economic decline and support for war: these are five of the defining characteristics of the Von der Leyen era. Is it any wonder that internal opposition is on the rise?

“Europe will always be on the side of humanity and human rights.”

That was the message Ursula von der Leyen, the embattled President of the European Commission, sent in an internal Commission memo on Monday (Oct 24). Von der Leyen (whom I shall henceforth refer to as VdL) may somehow believe those words — after all, the Commission she fronts did pick up the “World Price for Peace and Freedom” just four months ago, even as it escalated its involvement in the Ukraine conflict as well as its largely self-maiming economic sanctions on Russia — but many of the staffers working for the Commission apparently do not.

In fact, VdL’s latest message of peace and love was widely construed as a desperate response to a barrage of internal criticism unleashed last week against her unbridled support for Israel and her “apparent indifference” toward the “massacre of civilians in the Gaza Strip.” To make matters worse, VdL was effectively breaching her mandate as president of the Commission when she made these comments. In a letter that accumulated 842 signatures, staff members of EU institutions accused VdL of giving “a free hand to the acceleration and the legitimacy of a war crime in the Gaza Strip”.

After roundly condemning Hamas’ “terroristic (sic) attack” against “helpless Israeli civilians, the loss of life and the taking of hostages,” the letter squarely took aim at VdL’s unabashed support for Israel’s war aims, which, as Yves recently averred, appear to consist of making Gaza uninhabitable:

“We equally strongly condemn the disproportionate reaction by the Israeli government against 2.3 million Palestinian civilians trapped in the Gaza Strip; an action that is considered by many observers as war crime (sic)… Notably, we are concerned by the unconditional support by the Commission you represent for one of the two points. This support is being expressed in an uncontrolled manner, e.g. EC buildings lit up with the Israeli flag.

We hardly recognise the values of the EU in the seeming indifference demonstrated over the past few days by our Institution toward the ongoing massacre of civilians in the Gaza Strip, in disregard for human rights and international humanitarian law. We have just learnt that a hospital was bombed with many casualties. According to UNRWA statements, not a drop of water, not a grain of wheat, not a litre of fuel has been allowed into Gaza since the start of the Israeli operation, generating an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.”

The letter warns that the EU is “losing all credibility” as well as its status “as a fair, equitable and humanist broker” while also damaging its international relations and risking the safety of EU staff. As if that were not enough, the letter also rips into VdL’s “patent” double standards over what is currently unfolding in Palestine and the events of the past 20 months in Ukraine. A perfect case in point: in October 2022, VdL tweeted the following message:

Russia’s attacks against civilian infrastructure, especially electricity, are war crimes.

Cutting off men, women, children of water, electricity and heating with winter coming – these are acts of pure terror.

And we have to call it as such.

By contrast, as the letter notes, VdL “completely ignore[s]” the almost identical actions taken by Israel against the Gazan people. In a speech last Thursday at the Hudson Institute, a conservative think-tank in Washington, she prioritized Israel’s right to defend itself after Hamas’ assault on October 7 while neglecting even to mention the two-state solution that forms a core part of many European countries’ position on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

One of the best critiques of VdL’s position on the conflict has come from Irish MEP Claire Daly. As she says, “she has no authority in foreign affairs matters” and “does not speak for the citizens of Europe”:

Damage Control

Now, VdL is trying to undo some of the damage she has caused, without changing her position much. In the internal message she sent out on Monday morning, to which the Spanish daily La Vanguardia has had access, she says the Commission regrets the loss of “all innocent lives in this conflict, of all faiths and nationalities” and claims that its services have been working “from the beginning of the crisis” to alleviate the suffering of “ALL” those affected by the indiscriminate terrorist attacks, both by showing solidarity with Israel and by tripling humanitarian aid to Gaza and supporting the creation of an air bridge to Egypt.

As La Vanguardia notes, those last two measures were announced last week by the EU’s executive branch after a week of intense criticism of VdL’s statements of support for the Israeli Government, which initially did not even include the condition that Israel’s response to the brutal Hamas attack, which left 1,400 dead, must be “in accordance to international and humanitarian law”.

For VdL, the damage may already be done. After all, it is not just EU officials that are bridling at her one-sided support for Israel. Most notably, she has been openly criticized by both the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and the Irish President Michael D Higgins for her unqualified support for Israel. As NC reader Plutonium Kim notes in the comments below, “Varadkar is part of the same centre right grouping (EPP) who put Von der Leyen into power in the first place – he would not have made those statements without sounding out other EPP leaders.”

Some EU capitals are apparently “fum[ing]” at “Queen” VdL’s go-it alone approach to EU foreign policy, according to a piece published by POLITICO Europe last week.

Several [European diplomats] told POLITICO they were unhappy that von der Leyen, who voiced solidarity with the victims of the Hamas attacks, had not relayed their calls for Israel to respect international law in Gaza during her trip.

The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, even dared to issue a rare public rebuke of his boss. Von der Leyen, he said, is not entitled to represent EU views on foreign policy, which are normally coordinated between member countries.

“The official position of the European Union with any foreign policy [issue] is being fixed — I repeat — by the guidelines,” Borrell told journalists in Beijing on Saturday. Foreign policy is decided by the leaders of the EU’s 27 countries at international summits, and discussed by foreign ministers in meetings “chaired by me,” he added.

“Queen” Ursula

One unnamed diplomat cited by the POLITICO Europe piece said VdL “has been increasingly behaving like a Queen,” failing to consult EU capitals properly before making important policy decisions. The examples mentioned include a deal VdL oversaw to give the President of Tunisia Kais Saied more than €1 billion to help manage irregular migration as well as her recent announcement of an investigation into Chinese subsidies for electric vehicles. The article also mentions similar murmurings of disquiet over her role in the Ukraine conflict:

“We saw the same thing with the sanctions announcements, or on most Ukraine-related issues: She doesn’t discuss this with a lot of people, she just decides,” said a Commission official granted anonymity to discuss internal matters.

The official continued: “She has grabbed the power in the pandemic and she has [clung] to it. Nobody is really disputing it, also because her track record is very positive. The downside of it is that some things stay undecided for a very long time.”

The words “very positive” in that second paragraph, to describe VdL’s overall track record as president of the EU’s most powerful institution, are, to put it mildly, eye catching. After all, during that time, Europe’s two major industrial economies, Germany and Italy, have stalled and are going through the painful process of deindustrialisation, largely (but not exclusively) due to the surge in energy prices caused by the Ukraine conflict and the US and Europe’s sanctions on Russia, which appear to have inflicted more harm on Europe’s economy than Russia’s.

That’s not to say that VdL is solely responsible for the EU’s self-inflicted economic harm; it has been very much a collective effort. But it did happen on her watch and she has certainly had a hand to play in the ever-escalating sanctions on Russia.

Then there was the EU’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement disaster that VdL’s Commission directly oversaw. Having allowed vaccine negotiations to drag on for months, between late 2020 and early 2021, the Commission found itself drastically short of supplies. As the pressure on von der Leyen increased, the Commission took the decision to halt all vaccine exports from the EU. In doing so, it closed the Northern Irish border — something it had said it would never do. It was only after protests from the governments in London and Dublin, neither of whom had been consulted on the matter, that the Commission backed down.

None of this should have come as much of a surprise given the litany of procurement debacles and scandals that plagued VdL’s six-year term as Germany’s Defence Minister, as recounted in a blistering 2021 article in Foreign Policy, mercilessly titled “The Aristocratic Ineptitude of Ursula Von Der Leyen“:

Von der Leyen held the post as defense minister from 2013 to 2019, a remarkable run considering her inexperience. But when things came crashing down, they came crashing down quickly—and exposed a slew of mismanagement, incompetence, and potential corruption. The scandal is usually called the “consultant affair” due to the untold hundreds of millions of dollars von der Leyen and her chief deputy Katrin Suder paid to consultants who were responsible for helping to determine how the military should spend its substantial armaments budget…

The Gorch Fock, a sailing ship—with sails!—the German Navy used for training was docked for repairs in 2015, briefly before von der Leyen assumed office. The estimated cost was $11.6 million. When she left office in 2019, the estimated cost of repairing the training vessel had risen to $163 million. The mission-critical components of von der Leyen’s armament expenditures fared even worse. In 2017, according to N-TV, 97 new weapons systems were delivered to the Bundeswehr. Only 38 were functional.

Creeping Corruption and Authoritarianism

If the European Commission’s vaccine procurement disaster was bad, it pales in comparison with what came after, which also had VdL’s fingerprints all over it. In April 2021, VdL personally negotiated a deal with Pfizer Chief Executive Albert Bourla to buy up to 1.8 billion doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine — enough to “inoculate” (something the mRNA vaccines never really did) all of the EU’s 450 million citizens, including children and babies, four times over — for a reputed €36 billion.

This was on top of the billions of vaccines the Commission had already ordered from Pfizer-BioNtech and other manufacturers. In total, the Commission signed vaccine supply agreements for up to 4.6 billion vaccine doses (I’ll let readers do the math!). The EU’s “Green Pass” vaccine passport system, which coincidentally shares the same name as Israel’s system and which the World Health Organization has said will be used as a model to establish a global digital health certificate, helped to ensure there was healthy demand for the vaccines, at least in the first year of their rollout.

Now that most people realise that the mRNA vaccines are neither as safe nor as effective as they were initially marketed, demand for them has collapsed, leaving governments around the continent with untold hundreds of millions of unwanted doses on their hands. Germany alone is on track to destroy 200 million doses this year. But at the same time, EU Member States must continue to buy hundreds of millions more of the Pfizer-BioNtech mRNA vaccines until 2028, thanks to a renegotiated deal the Commission reached with Pfizer and BioNtech in May, the details of which it has also refused to make public.

As readers well know, VdL has been accused of destroying all of her communications with Bourla — a charge she neither admits not denies. In fact, she refuses to discuss the matter in public at all. Like Bourla, she refused to give testimony to the European Parliament’s inquiry into the Commission’s COVID-19 response. In the meantime, the New York Times has sued the Commission for failing to release the text messages and the European Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched investigations into the Commission’s vaccine procurement practices.

Even more of a threat than the EU’s creeping corruption under VdL is its creeping authoritarianism. While VdL may insist that “Europe will always be on the side of humanity and human rights,” the Commission she fronts has declared a global fatwa on freedom of expression on the Internet through its highly controversial Digital Services Act (DSA), which is already being used to stifle the free exchange of information on social media platforms, not just in Europe but across the world.

In one of the most Orwellian statements of recent times, for which the bar has been set vertiginously high, Thierry Breton, the European Commission for the Internal Market, said the actual purpose of the DSA is to “protect free speech against arbitrary decisions.” The Associated Press describes the act as cementing the EU’s position as “a global leader in reining in Big Tech.” Less than two months after becoming operational, the DSA is already being put to use to smother the spread of (in the Commission’s words) “incorrect, incomplete, or misleading” information about the war in the Middle East.

Above is the tweet with which VdL launched the DSA in all its censorial glory back in mid-August. In response, Martin Sonneborn, a German MEP, satirical journalist and regular thorn in VdL’s side flagged the message up as “fake content” and “misleading disinformation” to the relevant EU regulatory and control authorities, arguing that it “significantly fuels hatred of the EU and is therefore likely to endanger social peace in Europe”. From Berliner Zeitung (machine translated):

Von der Leyen must be held accountable for her official actions, said Sonneborn. Firstly, because she violates Articles 41 (right to good administration) and 42 (right of access to documents) of the Charter; secondly, because she violates the last article of the Charter, which prohibits abuse of rights:

“When we looked through all 54 articles of fundamental rights of the European Union, set out in the Charter of the same name, we struggled to find an article that had not been violated by the von der Leyen Commission.”

“After a four-year study of their official conduct, things come to mind that, by the most normal interpretation of the EU Charter, are clear violations of fundamental rights — especially with regard to Article 41, ‘Right to good administration’ (Lol!), and Article 42, ‘Right of access to documents, regardless of the form of medium used for these documents’, which of course expressly includes intimate short message exchanges with pharmaceutical bosses via SMS.”

“With the introduction of the DSA by the von der Leyen Commission, in addition to a number of secondarily affected fundamental rights, the following are now in question:

Art. 11 (1): Every person has the right to freedom of expression. This right includes freedom of expression and the freedom to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authorities and without regard to national borders.

Art. 11 (2): The freedom of the media and its plurality are respected.

Art. 10 (1): Every person has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Art. 6: Every person has the right to freedom and security.

Art. 7: Every person has the right to respect for their private and family life, their home and their communications.

Art. 8 (1): Everyone has the right to protection of personal data concerning them.”

Five Defining Characteristics of VdL Era

Creeping censorship, corruption, authoritarianism, economic decline and war: these are five of the defining characteristics of the VdL era. Is it any wonder that internal opposition is on the rise?

The first and, until now, last European Commission president to resign from office was Jacques Santer, in 1999. Even though he had little, if anything, to do with the misconduct of some of his fellow commissioners, he took responsibility and stepped down together with his entire Commission. Could the same happen with Ursula von der Leyen, who is directly implicated in a huge corruption scandal as well as cheerleading for a war that is going very badly for Europe as well as one that is just beginning in the Middle East, with potentially genocidal consequences?

It is possible though unlikely. After all, 1999 was a more innocent time in European politics. Corruption was less tolerated and politicians somewhat less craven. Also, VdL has only nine months left to run on her presidency. What’s more, she still has powerful friends, many of whose interests she has served for the past four years. They include, of course, the German and French governments that agreed to put her in the role in the first place. And, of course, Washington, which is now trying to convince EU leaders to commit another round of economic seppuku by forming a steel and aluminum tariff club to keep Chinese metals out. According to POLITICO Europe, VdL is poised to give in to US pressure, once again.

Also, von der Leyen, lest we forget, has a rare talent for failing upwards, so even if she does lose her job or is prevented from being reappointed for a second term, she will probably land a new one that is at least as good, if not better — such as, say, NATO chief. She has already shown she has a taste for war, is happily beholden to US interests and Joe Biden is apparently keen for her to fill the role.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    Although its not been widely reported outside Ireland, Von der Leyen was openly criticized by the Irish PM for her statements on Israel – likewise by the Irish President. This is far more significant than getting attacked by socialists in the european parliament – Varadkar is part of the same centre right grouping (EPP) who put Von der Leyen into power in the first place – he would not have made those statements without sounding out other EPP leaders.

    It is very unusual for an EU government leader to directly contradict an EU commissioner in public – essentially he was saying that she was out of her lane in putting her views in front of individual governments. Varadkar was also mirroring some official but unsigned statements coming from the Irish Foreign Affairs office which essentially stated that the EU Commission does not have the authority to set policy for national governments on non-EU matters (it is actually very constrained on this, although you wouldn’t imagine it from Von der Leyens statements).

    Von der Leyen’s days are numbered, but I suspect she will be allowed to serve out her time as it will be too embarrassing for the EPP and Germans to directly try to get rid of her. However, its pretty clear that the internal and external public criticisms would not have happened if there hadn’t been internal signaling that it was ok to stick the knife in. She is essentially dead in the water.

    1. Benny Profane

      Not dead in the water. More like still at the controls and steering straight to the iceberg.

    2. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you and well said, PK.

      France also championed her candidacy, especially the LREM MP for Paris’ tres elegant 14th arrondissement, Benjamin Haddad*, an archetypal PMC so and so and insecure and opportunist child of immigrants**.

      *One wonders if Aurelien / David knows Haddad.

      **So am I, so I recognise the “leche botte” type.

      Yesterday, as it was mild and sunny, I was out in the area whence the ancestors of VDL, George Washington, Princess Diana and Churchill come from. VDL takes a lot of pride in her English gentry ancestry, which part explains why she speaks English so much and loves horse riding. It does influence her thinking, too.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thanks CS.

        I’ve always been curious as to why she has so much French support, I would have assumed she was far too Anglo and Germanic for their taste.

        1. digi_owl

          France always seem to have had an ambivalent relationship with the EU.

          Sometimes it is a great evil encroaching on French sovereignty, other times it is the means to counter US influence in Europe.

          This weird relationship was on display when France agreed with the austerity pushed by EU after 2008, even as France was economically more in line with the PIIGS.

      2. Carolinian

        Your last graf–say no more?!

        Of course we Yanks are just wannabe aristocrats but we try really hard….

        1. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Carolinian.

          I was in Northamptonshire, ancestral home of the Spencers (Althorp, Wicken Park and Steane Park) and Washingtons (Sulgrave Manor).

          The Spencers (including the Spencer-Churchill wings) and Washingtons made money from wool in the Cotswolds and south midlands.

      3. DG

        In 1978 she went into hiding in London after her family were informed that the far-left militant group, the RAF was planning to kidnap her in order to extort her father. During her temporary “exile” in the home of Big Ben, she studied at the London School of Economics. She used the pseudonym “Rose Ladson” which she adopted in a act of homage to her ancestors from the SC plantocracy, in particular her great-grandmother Mary Ladson Robertson. The Ladson were large plantation owners and wealthy merchants in Charleston, and owned hundreds of slaves until slavery was abolished in 1865.

    3. Nick Corbishley Post author

      Thanks PK. Have updated the piece to include this vital point as well as a h/t to your good self.

    4. Irrational

      Agree fully that nothing will happen this term. The reason is not only embarrassment though, but also also political calculation (the European Parliament (EP) – only they can do it – would have to work up enough outrage to dismiss the entire Commission, not gonna happen) and laziness (Member States would have to nominate an entire new set of commissioners, EP to ratify, and then repeat the exercise next year, also not gonna happen).
      Hopefully, it will remove her chances of being reappointed!
      Thanks to Nick for an excellent post.

    5. ChrisPacific

      It wasn’t given much prominence but it was reported, along with a quote from Varadkar (it was downplayed and included at the very end of the article, but it was there). Thanks to NC I notice this stuff now and it did feel like it was significant.

  2. vidimi

    who ever though that at looking back to Jean Claude Juncker and Angela Merkel and even Silvio Berlusconi that those were the good, old days of EU politics. For all their enormous flaws, they were leagues better than what followed. Is there anyone more competent who could take over or would it be another VDL or Scholz ?

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, both.

        I have been thinking about that, too, and included Chirac.

        With regard to who could take over, I can speak for the UK and, from my visits to France. With regard to the UK, we’re f’ed. The lot waiting their turn are even worse, especially those fighting seats for the first time next year or January 2025. If I think of France’s Philippe, Darmanin, Lemaire, Wauquiez, Le Pen ladies, Attal, Baume, Riester and Bardella, to name a few, la belle France est foutue.

        1. Candide

          No accident that Jeremy Corbin was forced out by phony accusations, since he is sincerely in favor of sustainable solutions, not profitable arms sales.

    1. Jams O'Donnell

      The real question is: do they have anyone who will be less incompetent, and most importantly, less indebted or subservient to the US? Personally, I have no knowledge of such persons. There are certainly none in the UK, which of course is out of the running anyway.

      1. Feral Finster

        Even in the highly unlikely event that public pressure forces VDL to be escorted out of the building to a comfy sinecure somewhere, her replacement will espouse basically identical policies.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      The EU Commission line-up is always a curious beast, in that most appointees have to demonstrate some political/technical skills to climb that greasy pole, but occasionally a real idiot/nasty piece of work gets there simply because its politically expedient for a number of countries. A lot of them are placed there because they are deemed too powerful/influential/dangerous for national politics (i.e. its a convenient way for a PM to get rid of a rival while making it look like a promotion). There is also the dynamic that the most powerful countries want candidates who are easy to control in the key positions if they can’t get ‘their’ candidate an the position.

      As always, Aureliens blog takes a deep dive look into why so many more mediocrities are rising to the top these days, but I think one reason why the current EU Commission looks so out of its depth is that Germany is suffering particularly badly from the disease of a loss of talent at the top, while still having the influence to put its people in the wrong place.

    3. vao

      For all their enormous flaws, they were leagues better than what followed.

      Ahem. Angela Merkel brought Ursula von der Leyen into her government, and kept her there — three different ministerial positions (family, labour, and defence) under four different cabinets — during 14 years.

      What was the saying again? First-rate managers hire first-rate employees, second-rate managers hire third-rate employees…

  3. The Rev Kev

    Say, wasn’t it Ursula who, after the start of the Russian invasion, decided personally to shut all EU airspace to any Russian commercial aircraft all by herself without consulting the rest of the EU member states? When Russia reciprocated, it meant that every western airline was at a huge disadvantage as they had to fly around Russia causing fuel bills to skyrocket while airlines of countries like China just kept on using the same old economic routes over Russia. The one thing that you can guarantee about Ursula is that whatever job she does, she always leaves a catastrophic, corrupt mess in her wake for other people to deal with while she goes on to her next promotion.

  4. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Nick and readers.

    A fortnight ago, I dined with a Spanish diplomat friend. She will soon move from Brussels to Washington and was in town for business and pleasure.

    This was the Saturday evening following the Hamas attack. That did not come up.

    However, what did come up (and I can’t remember how) was dissatisfaction with the EU’s policy towards Ukraine, Russia, the US and UK. Below ministerial and commissioner level, in Brussels and national capitals, officials do not think sanctions are working and think the EU stances are backfiring on the EU, there’s too much identification with the US and, daily, officials have to pretend Ukraine is a democracy, not corrupt and an ethnically homogenous state, not a relatively great power recent creation. Zelensky is despised.

    VDL is blamed for much, but not all, of that, but so are, especially, the German political leadership and Macron. One French official, from the Alps, not Paris, said, out of political leadership earshot, regime change was needed in France. At that level, it’s felt that EU independence from the US is necessary and ASAP, this decade ideally as the EU, society and economy, can’t hang on like this, and the US needs to be ousted from Europe, not just its malign influence over the EU, but NATO, too.

    I sat amazed and intrigued, so did little to point out that the EU PMC does not need the US to push an anti-Russian line.

    With regard to dear old Blighty, there’s no appetite for the UK to return to the EU, especially if there’s no political and public consensus over membership and if the UK will act as the US’ proxy. Again, I pointed out that the UK was not the only US proxy and the EU did not need the US’ direction.

    At official level, there’s a feeling a new form of European association, including security and including Russia, is needed, but the US can’t be part of this and the UK will have to finally choose between the two blocs.

    I have other tidbits like this to share and need to e-mail Yves.

    One wonders what readers think, especially former British diplomat and now continental academic David / Aurelien.

    1. digi_owl

      “I sat amazed and intrigued, so did little to point out that the EU PMC does not need the US to push an anti-Russian line.”

      It may be that they hope that by cutting off the US influence, they can also weaken and/or oust the PMCs that are cargo culting US policies and behaviors.

      A solid example was back when the BLM protests kicked off, where groups across Europe aped the US protests down to “don’t taze me, bro” antics towards a largely passive police presence.

      1. Carolinian

        Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Some might say the poobahs in DC have let all this flattery go to their heads (Biden’s recent speech).

        Oh for the good old days when much of Europe resented us (“oversexed and over here”). That was a lot healthier.

        Speaking as a tourist I don’t want to go to Europe and find Walmarts. When long ago I was a tourist I resented all trace of creeping Americanism. Some of the French movies I watch now are downright inane. They’ve lost their Godard mojo. At least the UK still has skilled actors who can do perfect imitations of our American accents. English cinema still has mojo even as Hollywood drifts off into cartoon land.

        1. Amfortas the Hippie

          i find that i dont really want to go to europe any more…i mean, there’s a micky D’s not 16 miles from here.
          and i do french and italian cooking well enough.
          as for Tv…i went on a binge this summer of various northern european shows…the German “Dark” was my fave of the lot…but the danish(?) “Salamander” was pretty cool, too.
          others were not as good, but the Scandinavian Crime Noire is a lot better than anything the USA produces, save perhaps Bosch.
          the Polish language sticks in my ears…so haven’t done that yet(netflix was suddenly full of polish tv after the SMO)…and ive found very few russian offerings that held my interest(still finding their feet, i suppose)

          i dig foreign tv, because i get to look at places i’ll likely never go…and i get to sort of passively immerse myself in different languages…and noticing odd cultural quirks is pretty neat, too…like beer at lunch,lol(a no-no where i’m from, unless you’re already in the deplorable class—or, conversely, the boss class)
          FI, there was a finnish cop show…hot woman, cant recall her name…long, wild blonde hair(sighs)…and the language!(Tolkien’s favorite, and the model for Quendi) ….that was really good…everybody has a sauna, apparently.

          1. fjallstrom

            I can vouch for the last part. A sauna is fundamental for life in Finland. Even apartments has a sauna. The language is tricky though.

            1. Amfortas the Hippie

              thats the one.
              i have a fetish for insane blonde women, it seems.
              and long hair.

              regardless…lol…i found it engaging.
              and i learned a couple of Finnish words, to boot.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I don’t have your connections, but the impression I get is that the discontent is not with the specific policies, but that the Commission has muscled in on national governments prerogatives over many aspects of foreign policy. Nobody wanted to step out of line over Ukraine, but there is a lot less unity over the Middle East, so I suspect that quite a few countries, in particular the smaller ones, will be doing their best to reign in the Commission.

      What I find interesting about the attacks on VdL is that they’ve come from all angles – from EPP politicians, from national governments and from within the Commission itself (i.e. Borrell). Someone less thick skinned that VdL would have resigned over this. I suspect that she is surviving because nobody wants to be seen to wield the knife. I’m surprised nobody has tried to move a motion in the European Parliament – thats usually stage one in removing a Commissioner. In many ways, attacks on her from the fringe left is probably helping her as nobody in the EPP or its fellow travellers want to be seen to be trailing the left.

    3. Feral Finster

      Would to God that you prove correct, but everyone of influence and authority in the EU sings from the US hymnal in public, regardless what they may believe in private.

      Had a conversation with a German woman, partner in an international law firm, so not so highly placed as your contact but representative of the EU PMC. Enough to say that she dutifully parroted the correct slogans about how Putin evilly attacked Ukraine unprovoked because he hated the freedom, etc..

      I reminded her of the Minsk Accords and Minsk-2, which each of Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko admitted was a sham from the outset intended to give Ukraine time to re-arm so as to restart the fight.

      “You’re….right” the woman gasped, then she quickly changed the subject, lest wrongthink ensue.

    4. fjallstrom

      According to a German TV interview with Kohl’s guy in charge of dealing with the US, when the US doesn’t get what it wants it brings out the blackmail.

      As revealed in the 2009 FRA debate, one of the functions of the FRA legislation that the cabinet pushed against the opinion in the country and the opinion in their parties, was to give NSA a direct tap on all internet traffic in and through Sweden. With Swedish FRA as a sub contractor.

      A couple of years ago a Danish whistle blower revealed that the Danish intelligence agency had files on politicians in surrounding countries. For lack of interest, it didn’t survive long as a story.

      If these data points are generalised over the EU, one tends to get close to Michael Hudson’s view on the relationship between EU and that small room in Pentagon’s basement.

  5. Pavel

    The greatest trick the EU ever pulled was naming its undemocratically (s)elected leader “President”. These days “Führer” might be more appropriate.

    The Americans may complain (with justification!) about their political leaders but Europeans don’t do much better — BoJo, Sarko, Lagarde, DSK, UvL to name a few… all corrupt (and often convicted, then let off with a slap on the wrist) and blatantly dishonest and authoritarian. Merkel was awful IMO but compared to some of the others she was the epitome of competence.

    We see rising populism throughout Europe (most recently in German and Swiss elections) — the inevitable result of these “globalist” and arrogant (here’s looking at you, Macron) leaders who create one disaster after another but never accept any responsibility.

    What a mess we’re all in. (And this is apart from WW3 Biden & Blinken seem intent on causing, in part to salvage his re-election chances.)

      1. vao

        When it comes to Switzerland, two green parties are present in the parliament: the Greens (die Grünen), and the Green-liberals (die Grünliberalen). Both were whacked in the recent national elections — going from 43 to 33 seats (together).

        I wonder whether the performance of the Greens in the German government — warmongering, razing forest and villages to develop coal mines, running roughshod over environmental criteria for LNG and gas pipelines, and especially their general incompetence with respect to economy, to the impact of sanctions, and to inflation — is discrediting that kind of political party in all neighbouring countries.

        As for corruption in Europe, less well-known, but as desperatingly rotten are the smaller countries, less influential than France, Italy, Germany or Great Britain: Austria’s former Kanzler, Sebastian Kurz, is fighting against prosecution for various bribery and favouritism affairs (it is a tradition for Austrian politicians to be corrupt, but at that level, it is a bit unusual). In Portugal, the list of politicians (including former government members) being sued for corruption almost reaches 200. Spain is also sinking — with 344 politicians, civil servants, and firms processed in 2021; the figures are rising from year to year. Countries like Romania and Bulgaria have always been black holes; in Malta, Czechia, or Greece, major scandals erupt from time to time, revealing how bad, but hidden, things are. Oh, there were those insider affairs in Norway (leading to the resignation of the prime minister), and the Estonian PM whose husband is involved in juicy business with the officially hated Russians… It is not Nigeria or Ukraine, but things are not moving in the right direction.

        The old principle that “mandarins might be corrupt, but on the other hand they are competent”, no longer applies. And at present, the ineptitude is particularly glaring when considering the cost of living, and the deliquescence of health services.

        Overall, political parties are in disarray, with big, traditional parties massively losing members and voters, social-democrats mostly in a terminal state of pasokification, and left-wing ones spending their energy in internal fights and schisms (see NUPES in France, Die Linke in Germany). I am not quite sure that the usual suspects — like Rassemblement National in France, or AfD in Germany — will be the main beneficiaries though. Thus, in the recent elections in Bavaria, the CSU stagnated, while the “Freie Wähler”, not the AfD, ascended to the 2nd place. Bavaria is admittedly very peculiar — in a Germany full of local peculiarities.

        1. Kouros

          Romania (or its component parts) has not always been a black hole.

          Vlad the Impaler, the historical prince, cleaned the house of corrupt boyars, ordinary thieves, criminal beggars, etc. His younger cousin in Moldova, Stephen the Great, now a saint, was less harsh, decapitation of bad boyars was sufficient.

          The assasination of a big landlord in 1860 was sufficient to allow the passing of a law for land redistribution to peasants (25% of land belonged to the church).

          And really, there was very little corruption during Ceausescu. Why do I know? My dad worked in police and secret service and my in laws were also high level PMC commies – I would say almost ascetic in their behaviour. And we rubbed our shoulders with neighbours of all sorts of life and played with their kids.

          Authoritarianism, when allied with hoi polloi, works wonders, and this is why is so hated by the clique now running the show in the west, with the standard bearer of Plutocracy, the US, where corruption is legalized, and police raids people’s assets in a “lawful” manner.

          1. vao

            I should have said: ever since those countries re-joined the “free world”. Isn’t it odd that the “end of history” also marks the end of probity?

        2. digi_owl

          Norway not quite correct.

          The affected minister was the foreign minister, as here husband got accused of insider trading. And she didn’t so much resign as got replaced in a government reshuffle.

          But as part of that, thanks to some gloating in media, the husband of the previous prime minister came under scrutiny. And that has resulted in press conferences, crocodile tears, multiple rounds of incomplete trade history releases, and only seem to have lost headline coverage thanks to Gaza.

      2. Irrational

        Colonel, did you mean Luxembourg is seeing rising populism?
        The most populist party here is ADR, which went from 4 to 5 seats, so no big deal. The reason why DP, LSAP and Greens can no longer form the government is that the Greens tanked like in Germany. It looks like CSV and DP will go into coalition, which is a repeat of 1999. What will be fun is that CSV now have to own some of the policies of the previous coalition, which they criticized as the end of the world.
        Btw, quick guide: CSV is like the German CDU, DP is like FDP and LSAP is like SPD in terms of outlook and they all stayed broadly the same.

  6. John Jones

    UVDL was put in place by a stitch up with an outgoing Merkel and Macron as a ‘compromise’ candidate – essentially she follows a long line of failed member state candidates.

    Why now the surprise that she’s turned out even worse than when she was a failing German minister of defence?

  7. divadab

    VdL is essentially presiding over the breakup of the EU as a viable entity. Well, perhaps enabling and fomenting are better verbs than presiding……such a fine woman, educated, high-achieving, well-dressed, well-spoken, and yet utterly incompetent to perform her job. Unless her job is to unwind the EU……is she a secret Trumper under deep cover, perhaps?

    1. Skip Intro

      The skeptical might look at the sabotage of military procurement and wonder if a lavish dacha is awaiting her when her run is up.

  8. ciroc

    I am amazed at the gender discrimination that still exists in the idpol era. Had VDL been a man, she would have been called a “dictator” instead of a “king”.

    1. Amfortas the Hippie

      asking for Bob the Cat.(and the geese seem innerested, as well…but that might be due to the saxophone music;))

  9. Darius

    Why do I even know VdL’s name? I endured press conferences with a previous European Commission president. I forgot his name years ago. The EC president is supposed to be a coordinating role. VdL is out over her skis.

  10. Mikel

    “…The Associated Press describes the act as cementing the EU’s position as “a global leader in reining in Big Tech…”

    It is amazing how fast the widely championed privacy rights of users (which many support) morphed into focus on censorship.

  11. Matthew G. Saroff

    There are two issues here.

    The first is that Ursula von der Leyen is a complete disaster, as her tenure running the German Ministry of Defense.

    The second is that the Brussels bureaucrats, right or wrong, believe that they run the EU, and that democratically elected, or semi-democratically selected as is the case for von der Leyen, politicians have no business making policy.

    The latter concerns me more, because the former will eventually correct itself.

  12. Aurelien

    Late to this, so I’ll just make two quick points. The Commission has a lot of long-term strategic thinkers, and their agenda for thirty-five years has been to muscle into the foreign and security policy area, previously (and still largely, in theory,) the competence of member states. They actually tabled a draft Political Union Treaty in 1991 that would have given them a lot of influence of national defence policies. It’s been daggers drawn with the Council of Ministers for decades, but the Commission has steadily encroached on Council competences, because it does have long-term ambitions, and it does have a big, institutional budget, rather than having to pass the hat around among nations. And it has succeeded in widening the scope of its involvement in development aid, conflict prevention, trade policy etc. to the point where in practice it conducts a lot of European foreign policy anyway. I think the real anger is less with VdL’s individual positions and actions, daft as they may be, and unpalatable to many, but rather that she is abrogating to herself powers that really belong to nations, and in a particularly unsubtle manner.

    On the second point, VdL isn’t popular in France as such, but it’s true that Macron supported her, and quite a few of his clones do as well. This, I think, has a lot to do with the idea that she is now constructing the kind of post-national, supranational, highly-centralised Europe that Macron and his ilk want to see in principle. There’s a theory (for which I personally have some sympathy) that Macron’s long-term goal is to be an Executive President of Europe: perhaps not immediately after VdL but soon after. If the German Panzer has already destroyed a lot of individual national rights, then crowning Macron Unholy Roman Emperor will be a lot easier.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Merci, Aurelien, especially for the clarification that it’s Macron and his clones who support Uschi.

    2. digi_owl

      Dreaming himself Napoleon, is he?

      He best not forget who else carried that name in a certain story about a farm…

  13. Format

    I say VdL’s politics are a success. Sure, she may have angered leftists and maybe some others. But keep in mind Vdl’s origin. She represents the aristocratic class, and she has been very good at promoting their interests. All her bashing of Russia, China, EU member countries whose citizens voted wrong, promoting American interests at the expense of European citizens, and more, are just articulations of what the aristocracy thinks. If the aristocracy had their way, she’d get renewed for another five years, or even fifty.

    After her failed trip to China in March together with Macron, the big outlets like Financial Times and the Economist were praising her virtues. She might be an incompetent walking disaster in reality, but others see her as the best there is.

  14. Mickey Hickey

    My German relatives believe German armed forces are a me too game to go along with France and Italy. The next war they believe will involve one of the three nuclear armed countries namely China, Russia or the US. Conventionally armed countries have no hope against any member the overarmed trinity.

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