At the European Council summit in Brussels at the end of June, the heads of state and government of the member states proposed the extension of the mandate of Ursula von der Leyen, the current President of the European Commission, and the European Parliament is expected to confirm the German politician’s nomination at its inaugural session in the week of July 15. Given these developments, Századvég evaluated and analyzed the activities of Ursula von der Leyen, covering the period from the Commission’s assumption of office on December 1, 2019, to December 31, 2023.

The focus is on political progress

First of all, it is important to note that Von der Leyen, who has a medical degree, held a total of four ministerial positions in Germany – in the federal government and the government of Lower Saxony – before her EU career, only one of which was connected – at least partially – to her professional education (Minister of Social Affairs, Women’s Affairs, Family Affairs and Health of Lower Saxony, 2003-2005). In other words, Von der Leyen strove to obtain positions with higher political prestige and influence even at the cost of moving further and further away from her field of expertise. In light of this, it is less surprising that in 2019 the German politician became the head of the European Commission without any previous experience in the European Union, and thus became the head of the executive power of the European Union.

Von der Leyen does a politically effective but professionally debatable job

Based on the evaluation of Von der Leyen’s work as president in recent years, it can be concluded that the politician’s activities are a mixture of effective political advocacy and relegating professional aspects to the background, characterized by a strong political role rather than a professional one. While some commissioners of the European Commission can complete the legislative procedures related to them in almost 1 year (306,5 days on average), Ursula von der Leyen can implement her legislative ideas noticeably faster, in less than half a year (171,5 days)[1]. There is reason to assume that the President of the Commission achieved the mentioned fast pace of legislation by omitting, at least partially, the steps necessary for the careful professional foundation of decisions (procurement of expert opinions, consultation with professional actors, etc.). This assumption can be confirmed by the fact that, in the examined period, in connection with Von der Leyen’s legislative activities, in the 54 procedures she characterized, a preliminary impact assessment was carried out only once.[2] As the legislative dossiers aimed at settling the most significant and serious issues traditionally belong to the President of the Commission, it is worrying that preliminary exploration of the expected effects of individual decisions – essentially in full – has not been carried out.

It is also clear that the European Parliament and the European Court of Auditors are more “specialized” in following Ursula von der Leyen’s political agenda than in the professional addition and correction of the president’s work, or in channeling any missing professional aspects. In light of this, the EP attached an average of 347,5 amending proposals to a legislative file – linked to an EU commissioner – during the period under review, while in the case of von der Leyen’s proposals, only less than a third (107 pieces)[3]. It is also indicative that the European Court of Auditors dealt with various commissioners of the European Commission in a total of 246 reports during the period in question. Still, the body did not investigate Ursula von der Leyen[4].

It can therefore be assumed that the bodies mentioned above of the European Union are less willing to engage in conflict with the President of the Commission, and are more inclined to align themselves with Von der Leyen’s “political expectations”.

  • Based on these, it can be stated that Ursula von der Leyen’s presidential activity is dominated by
  • political considerations instead of professional considerations;
  • the efficient and quick enforcement of the political perspectives she represents (even at the expense of professionalism);
  • and it is characterized by bypassing the system of checks and balances of the Union’s decision-making operation.

Thus, in the past 5 years, we did not get to know her as an independent guardian of contracts, but rather as an unscrupulous career politician. In light of this, it is not surprising that as we have seen it in our Project Europe survey, the majority europeans have an unfavourable opinion about Ursula von der Leyen.