EU must keep its democracy 'safe and secure,' von der Leyen says after announcing re-election bid

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, announced her re-election bid on Monday afternoon.
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, announced her re-election bid on Monday afternoon. Copyright Markus Schreiber/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Markus Schreiber/Copyright 2024 The AP. All rights reserved
By Euronews
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The bloc must make its democracy "safe and secure" by increasing investments in defence, fighting disinformation and protecting its economy, Ursula von der Leyen told Euronews after announcing her re-election bid.

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The German politician confirmed on Monday afternoon her desire to lead the European Commission for another five years. The news caps off weeks of mounting speculation and heats up the presidential race ahead of the elections to the European Parliament.

If re-elected, von der Leyen is determined to make defence one of the most significant and structural priorities of her second mandate. Defence was for years a low-profile policy area in Brussels until Russia launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and forced Europeans to reckon with their shortcomings and weaknesses.

The online surge of misinformation, deep-fakes and unlawful content has also put the bloc on high alert, particularly in the context of elections, where autocratic foreign governments actively seek to influence voters and shape favourable outcomes.

"The most important part is to make sure that our democracy is safe and secure," von der Leyen told Euronews.

Although military decisions remain the exclusive prerogative of member states, von der Leyen's team is moving to centralise more powers in the industrial side of the defence. A soon-to-be-unveiled strategy, first reported by the Financial Times, will propose new tools to ramp up production, organise common procurement and roll out subsidies.

"Europe has gotten stronger because we all understand how important it is to have sound security spending and be able to provide security and to defend ourselves," von der Leyen said.

"We have to spend more. We have to spend better. And I think we have to spend more European to consolidate our defence industrial base."

Europe's goal to boost its defence capabilities has become even more pressing after the recent remarks of Donald Trump, who said that, if elected US president for a second term, he would "encourage" Russia to attack any NATO state that failed to meet the target of spending 2% of their GDP in defence. Trump's comments triggered a furious reaction from Western leaders and raised fears about the alliance's long-term viability.

NATO and the EU have 22 members in common and the fate of one is deeply interlinked with the other's.

"The alliance of NATO is of utmost importance for the European Union," von der Leyen said in her interview with Euronews. "But I think it's important that we do our own homework, that we fulfil our tasks."

However, von der Leyen added, security must be seen in an all-encompassing manner. Her presidency has pioneered the concept of "de-risking" to deal with China and introduced far-reaching plans to do away with Russian fossil fuels.

"We're also working hard to have economic security. We're working hard to have energy security. We have diversified our energy sources and we have massively invested in homegrown renewable energy because this gives us energy independence," the president told Euronews.

"So I see the term of security in a much wider sense."

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