EU Leaders Back von der Leyen for Second Term

European Union leaders agreed to nominate Ursula von der Leyen of Germany for a second five-year term as president of the European Commission, the EU's powerful executive body.
European Council President Charles Michel, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen take part at the signature ceremony of the security agreement with the EU during the European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 27 June 2024.
European Council President Charles Michel, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen take part at the signature ceremony of the security agreement with the EU during the European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 27 June 2024. OLIVIER HOSLET/Pool via REUTERS

By Andrew Gray and Thomas Escritt

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -European Union leaders agreed to nominate Ursula von der Leyen of Germany for a second five-year term as president of the European Commission, the EU's powerful executive body.

At a summit in Brussels, the bloc's 27 national leaders also picked former Portuguese premier Antonio Costa as the future chair of their European Council meetings and selected Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas as the next EU foreign policy chief.

"Mission accomplished! The European Council has delivered," the body's current chair, Charles Michel, told reporters early on Friday morning.

The leadership package represents continuity at the top of the bloc of some 450 million people, with centrist pro-EU factions keeping hold of top posts despite a far-right surge in elections to the European Parliament earlier this month.

The trio won broad backing but right-wing Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni abstained from the vote on von der Leyen and voted against Costa and Kallas, according to diplomats.

Meloni said on X that she decided not to support the leadership slate "out of respect for the citizens and the indications that came from those citizens during the elections".

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, another right-winger, voted against von der Leyen and did not vote for Kallas, diplomats said.

Von der Leyen's nomination still needs approval from the European Parliament in a secret ballot - widely seen as a trickier proposition than her endorsement by EU leaders.

"It is a matter of convincing - if possible - a broad majority for a strong Europe," von der Leyen said. "This is what I'm going to be working for."

The leadership package is balanced politically as well as geographically. Von der Leyen hails from the centre-right, Costa from the centre-left and Kallas from Europe's liberal group.

"This is an enormous responsibility in this time of geopolitical tensions. There's war in Europe, but there's also growing instability globally," Kallas told reporters.

Costa said he would be "fully committed to promoting unity among the 27 member states" in his new role.

DEFENCE DEBATE

At the summit, the EU also signed a security agreement with Ukraine, debated how to bolster EU defences against Russia and agreed bloc's strategic priorities for the next five years.

The security deal underlines EU support for Kyiv fighting off Moscow's invasion for a third year, despite gains by the far-right in European elections, uncertainty created by French snap elections and the U.S. presidential vote in November.

The agreement lays out the EU's commitments to help Ukraine in nine areas of security policy - including arms deliveries, military training, defence industry cooperation and demining.

"These commitments will help Ukraine defend itself, resist destabilisation, and deter future acts of aggression - more concrete proof of the EU's unshakeable resolve to support Ukraine for the long haul," Michel said.

The leaders reiterated their pledge to support Ukraine as long as it takes, stressing that "Russia must not prevail" and that Ukraine must get back the land annexed by Moscow.

DEFENCE DEBATE

The war in Ukraine laid bare the EU's lack of preparedness for a conflict as the bloc struggles to supply Kyiv with enough weapons against Russia, prompting calls for more EU coordination of defence systems and investment in defence industries.

Diplomats said von der Leyen told the summit that between 1999 and 2021, the EU increased defence spending by 20%, China by 600% and Russia by 300%, even before Moscow's massive rise in military spending after its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

According to diplomats, von der Leyen told leaders the EU needed to invest 500 billion euros ($535.30 billion) in defence over the next 10 years. Financing options ranged from national contributions, dedicated revenue streams - called the EU's own resources - and joint borrowing, von der Leyen said.

Investment in defence is part of the EU's "strategic agenda" that the leaders aim to agree before dinner on Thursday - a document that tells EU institutions what European governments want them to focus on during their 2024-2029 term.

Apart from defence, the agenda calls for a more competitive EU to withstand economic pressure from China and the United States and for preparing the bloc for enlargement that would include Ukraine, Moldova and the Western Balkans.

($1 = 0.9341 euros)

(Reporting by Jan StrupczewskiAdditional reporting by Andrew Gray, Philip Blenkinsop, Charlotte Van Campenhout, John Irish, and Michel Rose; Editing by Deepa Babington, Ros Russell and Susan Fenton)

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