Ursula Von der Leyen's 'political games' risk muddying her attempt to get five more years in office - Analysis by Millie Cooke

 Ursula von der Leyen

Suggestions of cronyism are swirling around Ursula von der Leyen - and it has come at a bad time for the European Commission chief

Millie Cooke

By Millie Cooke

Published: 29/02/2024

- 15:19

Updated: 29/02/2024

- 15:48

The European Commission President is facing questions over her appointment of the EU's new SME envoy

Suggestions of cronyism are swirling around Ursula von der Leyen - and it has come at a bad time for the European Commission chief.

Questions are being asked over her appointment of the EU Commission's new envoy for small and medium-sized enterprises, Markus Pieper.

The German lawmaker's appointment to the prominent EU job has been criticised by MEPs and officials, who have suggested there was a lack of transparency in the hiring process.

MEPs from green, centrist and left-wing parties have suggested the lawmaker, who belongs to Von der Leyen's EPP party, was appointed based on his party affiliation rather than on professional merit.

A written question from the MEPs, led by Green MEP Daniel Freund, to the Commission, says Pieper's appointment "raises questions about the transparency of the process and the Commission president’s influence on the latter".

The letter, signed by MEPs from the Greens, Renew, the S&D and The Left, also raises worrying questions about whether Von der Leyen overlooked suitable female candidates in order to favour Pieper.

It points to reports suggesting that "female candidates, from Member States, under-represented in senior posts, scored better in the three-stage recruitment procedure."

They have demanded the Commission hand over evidence to explain his appointment, asking what additional qualifications Markus Pieper had to put him ahead of the other contestants and cause the Commission to disregard other considerations such as gender and geographical balance.

They also demanded to know whether party affiliation played a "decisive role in his appointment."

Questions over cronyism aren't ideal for any politician. But it comes at a particularly bad time for Von der Leyen - just months out from the EU elections and just a matter of days after she announced plans to run for a second term.


Von der Leyen is keen to dispel any perceptions of overreach or illegitimacy in her government, having taken the axe to anything that smacks of overreach by Brussels ahead of announcing her reelection bid.

The perception that the Commission hands out jobs to people based on aff may not do her favours in her mission to distance herself from this image.

But if she can persuade people that the appointment was legitimate, it could well do the opposite.

Some MEPs have seen the move as an attempt to increase German influence within the European Commission and secure support for Von der Leyen's election bid under the Christian Democrat Union banner. Speaking to EU outlet Euractiv, one MEP dubbed the move a "political game".

Notably, the appointment came just three weeks before the CDU announced its support for Von der Leyen’s second term, nominating her as their lead candidate.

Some suspicions are swirling that the appointment may have been part of a tool to secure CDU support for the incumbent Commission President.

If Von der Leyen can shake rumours of cronyism, the appointment will have been a win for her. But if she fails to persuade people it truly was a politically neutral decision, it may well serve to muddy her re-election campaign at a crucial moment for the EU chief.

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