Germany wanted Von der Leyen to have 'personal consequences' for vaccine crisis

The German election remains a tight contest as Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) trails the Social Democratic Party (SPD) by just three percentage points, an Insa poll for Bild shows. After 16 years of political dominance, the outgoing Chancellor could be about to see her party ousted from power as CDU candidate Armin Laschet underwhelms. Figures close to German politics are warning the result could have major repercussions for European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, especially if the SPD’s Olaf Scholz forms a government. Udo Bullmann, a German Social Democrat who has served as a member of the European Parliament since 1999 warned this week that Mr Scholz may not be as forgiving with Ms Von der Leyen.

He said: “Olaf Scholz has great institutional respect, with which he would also treat Ursula von der Leyen.

“But he has no understanding for politicians who only generate headlines but do not provide any content. Ms. Von der Leyen is known for such a gap.”

One such issue which has led to the EU chief receiving criticism in Germany is the vaccine rollout.

In the early stages of the rollout, Brussels was condemned for its failure to get jabs out across Europe while countries like the UK had made good progress.

The EU also clashed with AstraZeneca, accusing them of under-delivering on vaccines.

Expert on European affairs, Susi Dennison, tells that the German public wanted Ms Von der Leyen to suffer “personal consequences” for the vaccine crisis.

The European Council of Foreign Relations academic said: “When we did some polling in April this year, we asked the question about Von der Leyen and the vaccine rollout.

“Interestingly, Germany was the only country out of the member states that felt there ought to be significant personal consequences for her as a result of the rollout.

“She’s in a better place now because things are looking better in the EU as a whole, but nevertheless she’s not a particularly significant figure in the discussions of the election.”

Ms Dennison also adds that, while Ms Von der Leyen was criticised for the vaccine rollout, responsibility also lied with the government in Berlin.

She continued: “I think Von der Leyen has had a really bad rap in Germany over the handling of the vaccine rollout.

“I think Germany was the member state where there was significant questioning over the value of being part of the EU negotiations on vaccines. It is a large member state, there was the scale to go it alone.

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“But also, that German companies were involved in the development of the vaccines which Germany couldn’t then access when it wanted to.

“The chaos of the early vaccine rollout in Germany, actually a lot of the responsibility was at a national level, but the anger was very much directed in the German media at the Commission.”

Ms Von der Leyen has been under scrutiny since she was elected Commission President in 2019.

When her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, was elected, he won via the Spitzenkandidaten system – giving the political group with the most seats in the European Parliament a nomination and mandate to lead the Commission.

However, in 2019, this method was not used.

Instead, Europe’s leaders put forward new candidates, of which Ms von der Leyen came out on top.

Mr Juncker said “not repeating that in 2019 was a mistake” and that his successor’s nomination “was not very transparent”.

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He added: “Unfortunately it did not become a tradition. I was the first and the last Spitzenkandidat.”

During the selection process, high profile figures from across the political spectrum in Berlin warned against Ms von der Leyen’s appointment.

Sigmar Gabriel, a former vice-chancellor from the same party, called her nomination “an unprecedented act of political trickery”.

The German Greens said the nomination of the Merkel-ally was an “old-school backroom deal”, while the right of centre Free Democrats said she was “not the best candidate”.

Manfred Weber, another high profile figure from Mrs Merkel’s party, said the nomination of Ms von der Leyen was a “sad day for European democracy”.

Suddeutsche Zeitung, a German newspaper, said she “will be unable to cope with the Commission presidency”.

French President Emmanuel Macron backed the German politician, saying she has “the DNA of the European community”

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