Von der Leyen denounces Right during ‘sham’ EU debate

Outside, a small but vocal group of protesters gathered around a large placard reading "Stop Ursula".


European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has denounced Europe’s political Right during a contentious European Broadcasting Union debate described by protesters as a “sham”.

On March 23, von der Leyen marched into a near-empty European Parliament to debate the lead candidates of the EU’s centrist and left-wing groups, avoiding any engagement with the media.

Outside, a small but vocal group of protesters gathered around a large placard reading “Stop Ursula”.

Organiser Nicolas Lefèvre told Brussels Signal that what he termed the Eurovision-style debate was a “sham”, labelling it “undemocratic”.

“The problem is that there is no debate, there is no contradiction,” he said.

Lefèvre also pointed out that what he called a lack of transparency highlighted alleged murkiness surrounding the European Parliament candidates’ backgrounds ahead of the elections in June.

“We don’t know where they come from. We don’t know what they have done before,” he said.

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and the Identity and Democracy (ID) parties were not present at the debate, having been excluded by the EBU over their rejection of the controversial Spitzenkandidat (lead candidate) process.

ID group and Vlaams Belang MEP Gerolf Annemans expressed frustration at the right being excluded from the debate, insisting that they wanted to truly debate Europe’s future, unlike — he said —  von der Leyen.

“Our group wants to participate in substantive debates about the future of the EU,” he said.

“And that is certainly not the case with this bad piece of theatre with several self-appointed candidates for the presidency of the European Commission. For us, the focus is not on the Commission but on the [EU] Council.”

During the two-hour, presidential-style debate broadcast across the European Union, von der Leyen defended her record without facing significant opposition.

The debate was seen by many as a poor imitation of the previous debate that took place on April 29.

Candidates repeatedly quizzed von der Leyen about potential alliances with the ECR and ID in the next Parliament.

Sandro Gozi warned against aligning with ECR, describing the group as anti-European, while Nicolas Schmidt of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) labelled ECR and ID as “not democratic forces”.

In response, von der Leyen insisted she was not aligning with ECR as a whole but rather with certain national delegations, not ruling out working with Italian Prime Minister Georgia Meloni.

She categorically ruled out any co-operation with ID, condemning what she said was the group’s pro-Putin stance and its intent to dismantle the EU. “They may have different names and principles but they have one thing in common: They’re friends of Putin and they want to destroy our Europe,” she said.