Von der Leyen crisis: EU president faces backlash as officials warn she has lost control

Ursula von der Leyen has been in office for just over five months and yet the walls already appear to have started to cave in. Leading officials in the European Commission have expressed doubts over the German politician’s suitability for the role. They claim Ms von der Leyen is running the Commission without structure and is losing control of it – with her response to the coronavirus pandemic bringing the cracks to the fore.

One long-standing EU official said the Commission has been in disarray ever since Ms von der Leyen first took over from Jean-Claude Juncker at the beginning of December, Bloomberg reported.

Other insiders told the newspaper that she has failed to assert authority, resulting in commissioners briefing against her.

Her lack of control over her top team was highlighted when two commissioners, France’s Thierry Breton and Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni published an opinion piece last month, in stark contradiction to Ms von der Leyen’s approach.

The European Commission President later made clear she was not on board with the plans mooted by the commissioners, which called for long-term financial bonds to help tackle the financial impact of the pandemic.

It is also reported that her advisory team, which she brought from Berlin to Brussels, is far less respected within the Commission than the team of her predecessor.

In recent weeks Ms von der Leyen has faced mounting criticism for her handling of the coronavirus pandemic, which is believed to be exacerbating the problems she already faces.

She caused outrage in Italy when she openly rejected the corona bonds, a potential financing mechanism for economic recovery.

The outcry prompted the EU chief to quickly backtrack after European Parliament President David Sassoli said a “clarification” was in order.

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A bitter feud has erupted between the EU’s north and south over the bloc’s fiscal policy, as the former resists backing vast financial packages to help struggling states such as Spain and Italy.

Ms von der Leyen has also failed to assert her authority and implement a Europe-wide response to the pandemic.

In March she had no choice by to devise guidelines for border closures, after many countries had already begin to impose such measures.

The President was also forced to drop plans to present a roadmap for ending the coronavirus lockdowns, after EU government’s rejected it.

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Heads of state warned such a move, proposed at the beginning of April, would send the wrong message to its citizens.

The embarrassing u-turn highlighted tensions between the EU executive and member states.

Brussels had been keen to play a coordinating role in managing the response to the crisis, but such an approach was starkly rejected by national government’s who began to announce their own measures for easing lockdown restrictions.

Austria, the Czech Republic and Denmark became the first to announce a roadmap out of lockdown.

Ms von der Leyen’s approach to the pandemic has prompted some to say she is overly deferential to national leaders and too reluctant in flexing executive muscle to enforce a central approach.

But some of her colleagues have defended her approach so far, and said that in the coming months Ms von der Leyen will prove an effective president.

They state a new President would have encountered difficulties in the face of a global pandemic and suggested she will soon consolidate her position.

Additional reporting by Monika Pallenberg

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