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Euroviews. 'The new Ursula': How von der Leyen learned to stop worrying and love Meloni

Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni shares a light moment as she welcomes European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Rome, January 2024
Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni shares a light moment as she welcomes European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Rome, January 2024 Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
Copyright AP Photo/Euronews
By Georgios Samaras
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

By embracing those who advocate for the erosion of democracy, VDL now aligns with figures who cloak themselves as quintessential Europeanists, ready to steer Europe through its future policy challenges. What could possibly go wrong, Giorgios Samaras writes.

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen currently finds herself in a state of anxiety, and it's easy to see why. 

From the controversial appointment of her ally Markus Pieper to a €17k per month job, to her diminishing influence within both the EU and her party, the Christian Democratic Union of Germany (CDU), her campaign is not going as planned. 

Additionally, her recent discord with Manfred Weber, the European People’s Party (EPP) leader, further complicates matters.

At first glance, her prospects of clinching another win in the forthcoming MEP vote as the EPP's frontrunner may still appear promising. 

However, her once unwavering popularity has diminished. Despite facing these challenges, she seems to retain a few potential, albeit sinister, strategies in her arsenal.

Call me Ursula

Von der Leyen embarked on a rather unconventional rebranding. "Ursula 2024" seems to bear striking similarities to Nigel Farage’s UKIP, evident in its colours, rhetoric, and tone. 

She wants to reshape her image before the European elections by emphasising values, family and, of course, pledging (even more) support for Ukraine.

Her new agenda unfolded live in Maastricht on the evening of 29 April, courtesy of Politico's election debate. Yet, the plot thickened further during the discourse.

The impending coalition between the EPP and ECR merely solidifies the parliament's disturbing shift towards the right, occurring precisely when the mainstreaming of far-right ideologies is evident.
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 2024
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, April 2024AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias

The “new” Ursula dropped a bombshell, openly suggesting for the first time that the European Parliament’s grand coalition between EPP and the S&D (Socialists and Democrats) might crumble, paving the way for an unexpected dalliance with the far-right.

The mention of the European Conservatives and Reformists group (ECR) marks the first clear indication that von der Leyen and the European centre-right are poised to align with a group that, aside from the neo-fascist Brothers of Italy, includes the Cypriot ELAM (the neo-Nazi counterpart of Golden Dawn), the Spanish far-right Vox, and, the semi-authoritarian Law and Justice or PiS party from Poland.

You got a friend in me

EPP is currently deliberating on its approach to the MEPs' vote following the European elections. If the numbers align favourably, EPP will consider forming a coalition with ECR. 

This coalition, along with the other far-right group in the parliament, Identity and Democracy, is projected to collectively control more than a quarter of the seats in the EU Parliament.

The connecting link between the opposing factions is none other than Italian PM Giorgia Meloni, whose influence in Brussels is rapidly expanding. In addition to assuming the presidency of ECR, she declared her candidacy for the forthcoming EU election.

Meloni recognises the potential for policy influence in Europe, which could translate into significant sway across the continent. Her ideological stance suggests a desire to rally European forces, even those with authoritarian tendencies. 

Meloni recognises the potential for policy influence in Europe, which could translate into significant sway across the continent. Her ideological stance suggests a desire to rally European forces, even those with authoritarian tendencies.
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, speaks with Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during a round table meeting at an EU Summit in Brussels, March 2024
Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban, left, speaks with Italy's Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni during a round table meeting at an EU Summit in Brussels, March 2024AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

Meloni recognises the potential for policy influence in Europe, which could translate into significant sway across the continent. Her ideological stance suggests a desire to rally European forces, even those with authoritarian tendencies. 

In February, she persuaded her ally, Hungary's Viktor Orbán, to relent on his hesitance to activate financial aid for Ukraine. In return, his frozen EU funds were released, highlighting the EPP's embrace of authoritarian strongmen.

The EU has shamelessly endorsed and encouraged collaboration among the rogue elements within the bloc. The brazen freedom afforded to figures like Meloni to manipulate communications and forge some of these alliances is not just concerning but outright scandalous.

Von der Leyen found a new friend in Meloni, and she cannot hide her excitement. And why would she? Political survival seems to be her sole mantra, regardless of the cost. They also have a lot in common.

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Von der Leyen appears ready to gamble away her already contentious legacy, whilst her track record over the past five years reveals not just thin ideological positions but a landscape rife with scandals, corruption, pro-Israeli government lobbying, and relentless efforts to dismantle crucial EU human rights. And one can hardly expect her to stop there.

Too much fear?

The impending coalition between the EPP and ECR merely solidifies the parliament's disturbing shift towards the right, occurring precisely when the mainstreaming of far-right ideologies is evident. 

This normalization is underscored by rampant corruption and swiftly followed by alliances with entities the EU previously sought to expel due to their blatant disregard for democratic principles and, notably, their ties with Russia.

For years, European centrists propagated fear regarding the looming spectre of the far-right. What many voters were not aware of was that the threat would emerge from within their own ranks. 

Even in recent times, von der Leyen made bold claims about never entertaining collaboration with the far-right. Yet, her stance conspicuously embraced only certain factions while others remained under her radar.

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The alliance between the EPP and S&D seemed unshakeable, but now it is at serious risk. 

The looming coalition between Meloni’s allies and the EPP heralds a grim era in European policymaking, characterized by xenophobic vitriol, a dangerous anti-LGBTQ stance, emphasis on culture wars, and a revival of the neo-Fascist echoes of Brothers of Italy's past.

Von der Leyen edges closer to securing her political survival, but at what cost? By embracing those who advocate for the erosion of democracy, she now aligns with figures who cloak themselves as quintessential Europeanists, ready to steer Europe through its future policy challenges. 

What could possibly go wrong?

Georgios Samaras is an Assistant Professor of Political Economy at the Department of Political Economy, King’s College London.

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