Will 2024 Mark the End of Ursula Von Der Leyen’s EU Presidency?

With court cases and EU elections looming in the first half of this year, big question marks hang over the future of the EU Commission president.  

Europe’s — and according to Forbes, the world’s — most powerful woman, Ursula von der Leyen (whom I will heretofore refer to as VdL), is in a bit of a jam. As Berliner Morgenpost reported this week, the European Commission president could be instructed by the European Union’s top court, the European Court of Justice (ECJ), to release all of her cellphone text messages pertaining to the mega COVID-19 vaccine deal she brokered with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla in early 2021 (which may already have been deleted; she has form when it comes to destroying digital evidence).

The ECJ wants to reach a swift resolution to a lawsuit brought by the New York Times demanding the release of the messages. Meanwhile, the investigations, criminal or otherwise, against VdL’s Commission are stacking up.

“A Mistake of Strategic Proportions”

The article in the Berliner Morgen Post, titled “Text Messages Could Pose a Threat to Ursula von der Leyen,” provided a neat summary of VdL’s starring role in “Pfizergate” — arguably the most important political scandal in EU history — before exploring the growing disaffection in EU capitals over VdL’s go-it-alone approach to EU foreign policy, in which she has essentially arrogated to herself powers that have traditionally belonged to EU national governments (machine translated):

Von der Leyen has recently provoked considerable resentment in European capitals with her solo foreign policy moves. She promised [Ukraine] €50 billion euros without the consent of EU states, who would have to foot the bill. In Tunisia, she signed a preparatory migration agreement without first consulting the member states. And the fact that she deviated from the official EU line during her visit to Israel caused outrage in Brussels: she gave the Israeli government full support for its defence against the Hamas terrorist attacks, without, as agreed beforehand, insisting on respect for international law and the protection of the civilian population. A “mistake of strategic proportions,” complained diplomats in Brussels.

Even at this late stage in VdL’s mandate, it is rare for an article in Europe’s mainstream press to take VdL to task for her role in Pfizergate — which, for the sake of precision, should be known as Pfizer-BioNTechgate (I know, a bit of a mouthful) given that BioNTech was the original manufacturer of the mRNA vaccine. The Mainz-based pharmaceutical’s ties to the German federal government could not be closer, having been seed-funded and subsidised by successive Merkel administrations, of which VdL was the only constant member. Without this support, the firm may never have got off the ground, and probably would not have survived as long as it did (12 years) without selling a single product.

BioNTech’s ties with both Berlin and the VdL Commission remain strong. Just two weeks ago, VdL was accompanied by Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on a state visit to Rwanda, where they opened BioNTech’s first mRNA vaccine factory in Africa. The factory was part-financed with EU funds. As Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame said during the factory’s inauguration, “The European Union, and President von der Leyen personally, helped to make this a reality.” In other words, as the criminal investigations into Pfizer-BioNTech continue, VdL’s Commission continues to funnel scarce EU funds in BioNTech’s direction.

Speaking at a recent event organised by the Brussels-based strategic consultancy SEC Newgate, the EU Ombudsman, Emily O’Reilly, lambasted European media for failing to investigate and report on EU corruption during VdL’s mandate. In 2022, O’Reilly accused VdL’s Commission of maladministration over the Pfizergate scandal, to little avail. The EU Ombudsman has, in O’Reilly’s words, “recommendatory powers only,” and has no legal means of holding VdL accountable besides stating the facts and asking for recourse.

From European Conservative, ironically one of precious few European media outlets that actually covered O’Reilly’s speech:

That’s why O’Reilly turned to the media at a recent event held by the Brussels-based strategic consultancy SEC Newgate, wondering why journalists seem to hold back when it comes to von der Leyen and possibly the biggest corruption scandal in the history of the EU.

While acknowledging that the Commission’s strategy to “stonewall” the media makes it hard for journalists to hold von der Leyen accountable for anything, O’Reilly said she was “amazed [at how] such a prominent figure as von der Leyen isn’t questioned harder on her missing Pfizer texts.”

A Story of Two Scandals

The media silence is particularly striking given the much greater attention devoted to the Qatargate scandal involving the European Parliament, an institution that wields far less influence and power than the Commission. The resulting probe into the current and former MEPs and parliamentary assistants implicated in the bribery ring scandal now appears to have bogged down, according to the Financial Times.

Qatargate may be the EU’s biggest graft scandal in decades but its implications pale in significance to those of Pfizergate, as I noted in my December 16, 2022 post, Will the Fallout from “Qatargate” Splatter the EU Commission?:

In contrast to Qatargate, [Pfizergate] has been studiously ignored by Europe’s legacy media despite the staggering sums of money involved (tens of billions of dollars to date to buy up to 1.8 billion COVID-19 vaccines), the number of people affected (anyone who pays taxes in the EU and felt compelled by the EU’s vaccine passport rules to take a medical product they didn’t want) and the seniority of those implicated, including Von der Leyen herself and Albert Bourla, CEO of Pfizer, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.

Von der Leyen herself has come under fire for concealing and/or deleting records of her conversations with Bourla prior to the Commission’s purchase of up to 1.8 billion vaccines. As for Bourla, he has twice refused to give testimony to a European Parliament special committee on the matter.

Now, the chickens could be coming home to roost for VdL, as the legal cases against her mount at the most sensitive of times in the political calendar — election year. Again, from the Berliner Morgenpost piece (machine translated):

The hearing before the ECJ will also focus attention on the investigations of other judicial authorities: The European Public Prosecutor’s Office has been investigating the Commission’s procurement of the corona vaccine for 15 months, and the result is expected in the first months of 2024. The trade expert and lobbyist Frederic Baldan has filed a criminal complaint against von der Leyen with the Belgian judiciary on allegations of corruption and destruction of documents in connection with the mega-deal and the SMS.

And a hearing in a Belgian court at the beginning of this year will also document the growing frustration of a number of mainly Eastern European countries regarding the conditions of the controversial Biontech deal. After rigourous protests, Pfizer agreed to extend the delivery period until 2027 and reduce the delivery quantity — but, according to insiders, a fee must be paid for each cancelled dose. This has hardly dampened the discontent of many EU countries. Pfizer has sued Poland and Hungary because they strictly refuse to pay for unneeded vaccine doses. At stake are billions of euros.

The legal aftermath of Corona hits von der Leyen at an inopportune time: in the year of the European elections. She will soon have to declare whether she will apply for a second term as Commission President. On March 7th, von der Leyen’s EPP party family will announce their top candidate for the European elections at a convention in Bucharest; there must be internal clarity well in advance. In Brussels , party friends, diplomats and Commission officials have so far assumed that von der Leyen would like to continue until 2029 – and would have a good chance of being re-elected if he ran.

VdL’s “Achievements”

The article then proceeds to list some of VdL’s achievements during her time in office, including the “Green Deal” she helped launch, her demonstration of the EU’s geopolitical ambitions in the Ukraine war, and the role she has played in EU crisis management. I would argue that the last two have been both resounding and hugely costly failures, as opposed to successes. The article then offers up this little gem:

“Von der Leyen is also praised by diplomats as the “most influential woman in Europe.”

Which begs the question: power for what purpose?

Creeping censorship, corruption, tech-enabled authoritarianism, rapid economic decline (much of it self inflicted), and supine support for US-backed economic, trade and military wars: these are the watchwords of VdL’s rule.

Indeed, if the Commission President was actually elected by EU citizens — as opposed to being selected for the role by national EU leaders after weeks of backroom horse-trading and then presented to the European Parliament to seal the deal — VdL wouldn’t have a hope in hell of being reelected in June. She only mustered a razor thin majority in the European Parliament first time round, despite being the only candidate on the ballot and enjoying the full support of Europe’s two most powerful national leaders, Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

While loved and feted in Washington (for obvious reasons), VdL has become a political liability in Brussels. Her political grouping in the European Parliament, the European People’s Party (EPP), has made assurances that it will support her candidature, but VdL cannot count on the unanimous support of the 27 national heads of state and government for her re-election. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, having suffered numerous budgetary privations at the hands of the VdL Commission, has already threatened to veto a second term in office. As the BM article notes, alternatives are being considered in Brussels’ hallowed halls of power.

But even that, alas, is unlikely to spell the end of VdL’s political career. The only thing that could accomplish that would be an emphatic ruling or charges against her in one of the trials or investigations she faces, which is fairly unlikely. Vdl has a rare talent for failing upwards, so even if she fails to secure a second term as EU Commission president, 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 a taste for war and is so beholden to US interests that Politico called her “Europe’s American President.” Plus, Joe Biden is apparently keen for her to fill the role.

With or without VdL as Commission president, the outlook for the EU is decidedly grim. While much of the rot had already set in before VdL’s mandate, with the US-sparked Global Financial Crisis playing a key role as catalyst, her presidency has certainly helped to accelerate the decline. During her reign, the EU’s economy was thrust into a death spiral of de-industrialisation by the war in Ukraine and the EU’s self-harming sanctions on Russia, of which she is one of the most strident proponents. This, in turn, will help render the EU even more of a US vassal state, which was a key goal of project Ukraine all along.

The EU’s decline will almost certainly continue regardless of who takes over the reins. According to Berliner Morgenpost, one possible candidate is (cue drum roll…) Mario Draghi. The former Goldman Sachs banker has already proven himself to be a faithful servant of transatlantic banking and corporate interests, not only as governor of the Bank of Italy and the ECB but also as prime minister of Italy. The 76-year old technocrat already appears to enjoy the approval of Emmanuel Macron, the man who, together with Merkel, helped engineer VdL’s rise from disgraced German minister of defence to European Commission president. Draghi himself says he’s not interested in the job, but that’s exactly what you’d expect him to say.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    ‘Emily O’Reilly, lambasted European media for failing to investigate and report on EU corruption during VdL’s mandate’

    Seriously? Have they released the flight logs for Epstein island yet? What about Biden’s financial dealings? The European media is no different to any other main stream media around the world. That is why Putin mocks us when he says that we live in an Empire of Lies. Anyway…

    I wish to state here, in light of how her career has developed, that I am fully confident that even if VdL gets the boot in a few months time, that she will quickly be offered something higher such as Secretary General of NATO when it comes up next or perhaps Secretary General of the United Nations. No matter how much of a dog’s breakfast she makes of any job she has, she always gets promoted up. Always. So while she is waiting, perhaps she can be given a place on the Board of German pharmaceutical BioNTech. And why not? For all the tens of billions that she has sent their way it is the least that they can do.

    But the real problem is her job itself – the President of the European Commission. She has gone off-script so many times now and dragged the whole of the EU into untenable disasters that reform is needed. So I am thinking of a vote of confidence measure where a two thirds majority or the 27 members of the European Commission or a three-quarters majority of the 705 Members of the European Parliament can topple the President. Could that cause some instability? Of course it can. But it would have to be better than bullet-proof Ursula’s present s*** show right now. And as a side benefit, it would torpedo people like Marcon appointing another Ursula or even a has-been like Mario Draghi.

    1. Lefty Godot

      You’ll probably get Christine Lagarde, because these people keep having to be recycled. But, eat your kale and like it! Or else.

  2. DJG, Reality Czar

    First, I believe that Nick Corbishley wants the verb “arrogate” for “essentially abrogate”–yes, I’m a walking nightmare of an editor.

    Otherwise, compliments on an enlightening article. It isn’t as if I mean to vote EPP in the coming Euro elections. Forza Italia is in EPP? At least (the now more or less dead) Berlù was more entertaining than Ursula.

    On the ground, I’ll report a strange fact: After much hemming and hawing and reading of many Water Coolers on Covid, I got my booster. My pharmacist decided he wanted to talk–so he sat with me during the fifteen minutes when one rests and tries to avoid thrombosis. He was not happy: And Italian pharmacists are knowledgeable and helpful and usually reassuring. Moderna vaccine is no longer available in Italy. I made him and his colleague look up Novavax, which in theory is available in Italy. Not in practice, though. And they understood why Novavax may be a better risk.

    The topic of the Pfizer scandals came up: It isn’t going away. Not when one’s pharmacist is complaining about Ursula and the EU.

    With regard to Rev Kev’s comment: The problem in the EU is that the do-nothing Euro Parliament and the Commission are thoroughly insulated. How does one put pressure on them? Sure, the Italian press loved reporting on Eva Kaili and her Italian boy-toy and the clocks as bribes (clocks?).

    But day to day? What pressure can the average Italian citizen put on the EU?

    I fear that turnout in Italy in the Euro election will be low.

    I will be voting Sinistra Italiana, or if Giuseppe Conte keeps making the right noises about peace, prosperity, armaments, and income inequality, for Five Stars.

    Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, did I truly just type Five Stars? Well, anything to avoid Mario Draghi and his continuing attention-grabby sloppiness…

    1. Ignacio

      I leave this promising article for the Sunday. Today I feel I cannot stand anything about Ursula von der Graüel. I side with Acacia anyway.

    2. gk

      You just typed 5 stars. I just voted for them in the latest local elections. I still can’t quite believe that I did it.

  3. digi_owl

    So how likely is it that she will fail upwards to NATO should Stoltenberg steps aside?

    And that is perhaps why he keep accepting more terms even though he seem eager to get out of there (was all set to take over as the national bank chief in Norway before the shooting started in Ukraine).

    And Draghi as her replacement, hu boy. I can see why Varoufakis seems to have soured on the idea that EU can be reformed/rescued.

  4. Feral Finster

    As long as she makes people of influence and authority happy, VdL has nothing to fear, and people of influence and authority are all on board with “[c]reeping censorship, corruption, tech-enabled authoritarianism, rapid economic decline (much of it self inflicted), and supine support for US-backed economic, trade and military wars”.

  5. Sausage Factory

    One can only hope that she carries the can for here woeful miscalculations, Borrell too. However these people are without doubt closer to the US than the EU and look after their masters interests so maybe the US would like them to remain in position to ‘shape the narrative’ after defeat in Ukraine becomes obvious to even the most propagandised of Europeans. There will be much musical chairs this year, rumours of Scholz’s demise are legion in German press, they say Pistorius is his likely successor but here again we have another US trojan horse so the difference it would make seems irrelevant. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a new wave of ‘terrorism’ start in Europe (obviously at the hands of proto Gladio US proxies) the most obvious of distractions for an already suffering population. One thing is sure, no matter the intermnal strifes in the EU, it and the US’ defeat at the hands of Russia is now assured and this cannot be covered up. New blood in Europe will be there to perform the same old job, NATO, formulating dissent on Russian borders and internally and failing at both. Whither the wests supremacy? Splintering and scattering before our eyes and their only response, more and more violence, more and more chaos, more and more failure.

  6. WillD

    She has been very successful in raising the level of stupidity and wokeness in the EU, to such a point that very little of what she actually says makes any sense at all. But then, I supposed it could be considered a new language – similar to early human grunts that reduces communication down to its lowest possible levels.

    Together with Jungle Josep, she takes incompetence to a whole new level. Which means she will get an important post somewhere else that needs her wrecking skills.

  7. Marvin

    A certain US agency may have copies of those text messages that VDL appears to have misplaced. Copies of earlier text messages as well, messages that put light into controversial contract scVDL arranged with McKinsey, in her time as defence minister in Merkel’s government.

    Those copies might make the ideal candidate for either her current or a future NATO position.

    Just like secret data on cover-ups of earlier (Wire are and cum-ex) scandals make Scholz the perfect German chancellor.

    Wild speculation, of course, completely unfounded.

    The invisible hand of the NSA would explain a lot of the irrational, Anti-German and anti European decisions we have seen over the last years.

  8. Isla White

    Yet again – on EU issues – NC nails it!

    But still needed is deeper discussion on the incompatibility of, in particular, northern EU (scando / anglo-saxon and with a ‘history’ if not the practice of Protestant) social norms and behaviours…. and the clan based ‘sheikhs, families and friends’ decision making social norms and behaviours of the ex-Maghreb, ex-Arab now Catholic southern EU.

    That, for example, the EU Ombudsman and Public Prosecutors Office and similar are attempting to implement an ‘honesty and transparency’ agenda that some EU member states find totally absurd; so allowing senior officials and politicians from other more socially developed member states to ‘play games’ knowing that the whole EU / EC system (as with Quatargate) is sufficiently corrupt.

    Elsewhere well illustrated today by the social norms, behaviours and cultural muddle in the US – where several centuries of supposedly being on, or moving towards, the same page has delivered today a 2 state ‘political’ solution between alleged Republicans and alleged Democrats that would be unrecognisable to the Founding Fathers.

    Also – as NC is a South and Central American specialist commentator – how much of a curse for citizens in those countries today was the Treaties of Tordessillas 1494 and Zaragoza 1529?

    Could these countries have had better outcomes if originally colonised by say Scandinavians?


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