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President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen is seeking a second term Alamy Stock Photo
European elections

'Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater': Candidates clash on 2nd term for von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen has been accused of disregarding international law by supporting Israel in its war on Hamas.

CANDIDATES RUNNING IN the upcoming European elections have clashed on the issue of Ursula von der Leyen’s potential re-election, as they weigh up the European Commission President’s wins and pitfalls so far.

At UCD today, sitting MEPs Ciarán Cuffe and Barry Andrews, as well as Senator Regina Doherty and Sinéad Gibney sparred over von der Leyen’s track record, with her approach to Gaza being the main sticking point.

Most sitting Fine Gael MEPs have enthusiastically endorsed her bid for a second-term, and Doherty made no bones about joining them.

“Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” she said.

Doherty acknowledged that von der Leyen was quick to support Israel in the early days of its war with Hamas, visiting the state and pledging the EU’s support amid grave concerns about Israel’s tactics.

The majority of Irish MEPs agreed that she had overstepped her mandate.

However, “on the round”, Doherty said, von der Leyen has had a positive impact.

Addressing Green MEP Ciarán Cuffe, she said: “This is the greenest commission we’ve had, led by an EPP commissioner.”

Doherty also cited the president’s achievement in limiting the impact of Brexit on Ireland. Fianna Fáil MEP Barry Andrews said this was an overstatement of her role, as the negotiations largely pre-dated von der Leyen’s term.

“She has done an awful lot of good,” he said. “I don’t think she can be credited with Brexit.”

He said he wouldn’t vote to re-elect her due to her “terrible missteps” in recent months.

“International humanitarian law has been completely degraded over the last five to six months,” he added. 

He believes it could take “a generation” to restore “any kind of credibility”.

‘Value the rule of law’

A second term in the post could make von der Leyen the most significant politician to represent the EU in decades. 

Social Democrats candidate Sinéad Gibney said she was “appalled” by the support some EU leaders have shown Israel, contrasting it with the response to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

“I absolutely acknowledge that she has done some good things over the course of her term, but I think she has shown her true colours in the last six months.”

Gibney said that the EU “needs a president that values the rule of law”.

Cuffe was less forthcoming about his voting intentions.

While he’ll be supporting the European Green Party’s candidates for the presidency, Bas Eickhout (Netherlands) and Terry Reintke (Germany), he says he “will see what the other candidates have to offer”.

Candidates from Sinn Féin and the Labour Party were invited but unable to attend.

There have been a series of pro-Palestine rallies on UCD’s campus in recent weeks, with some events being disturbed. The atmosphere at today’s hustings was decidedly calm.

The European elections will take place from 6 to 9 June, with polling in Ireland to be held on 7 June.

An extra Irish MEP has been added to the bloc, bringing the total after this summer to 14 over three constituencies.

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This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work are the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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