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Ursula Von Der Leyen Seeks Second Term as Top E.U. Official

“Who do I call if I want to call Europe?”

The answer to the famous question — attributed to Henry Kissinger, but probably apocryphal — has been easier to answer over the past four years than ever before: You call Ursula von der Leyen.

President of the European Commission since 2019, Ms. von der Leyen has emerged as the face of Europe’s response to major crises, and on Monday she announced that she would seek a second five-year term.

“I ran in 2019 because I firmly believe in Europe. Europe is home to me,” Ms. von der Leyen said on Monday in Berlin at the Christian Democratic Union party conference. “And when the question came up back then as to whether I could imagine becoming president of the European Commission, I immediately said ‘yes’ intuitively.”

“Today, five years later, I am making a very conscious and well-considered decision: I would like to run for a second term,” she added.

Given her strong record steering the European response to both the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Ms. von der Leyen is seen as a relatively sure bet to keep the job, which is not elected but decided in negotiations among European Union leaders.

Another term for Ms. von der Leyen would provide continuity for bloc, which could also expect her to further expand the authority of her position, even beyond its duties overseeing the 32,000-strong European Commission, the E.U.’s executive branch, which is responsible for drafting laws and policies for the 27 member states.

The first woman to hold the office, Ms. von der Leyen has already used the resources at her disposal to steer the E.U. through crises and has leaned into the stage the role offers to become one of the most visible leaders to have held the position.

A German gynecologist and conservative politician, Ms. von der Leyen had a lackluster record as a minister in the administration of former Chancellor Angela Merkel. But she has emerged as a trusted figure in the Byzantine working of the E.U.

For President Biden, who frequently refers to her simply as Ursula, Ms. von der Leyen, 65, has been the go-to person to coordinate E.U.-U.S. policies.

Ms. von der Leyen led the European response to the pandemic, even though health policy has traditionally been the purview of national governments. Initially, the E.U. fell behind Britain and the United States in vaccine rollouts, but it later caught up and overtook other major global powers, and she drew mostly praise for her handling of the crisis.

Ms. von der Leyen secured a huge deal with Pfizer for Covid vaccines that was welcomed as a breakthrough, though it was criticized as lacking transparency. The terms of the contracts, including what E.U. citizens paid for them, have never been revealed.

The New York Times has sued the European Commission as part of a freedom-of-information request, seeking access to text messages Ms. von der Leyen exchanged with the chief executive of Pfizer over securing the deal for Covid 19 vaccines. The court case is pending in the European Court. It is one of the more serious shadows Ms. von der Leyen faces in terms of her record.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine two years ago, she made herself and the E.U. a steadfast ally for the United States, spearheading sanctions on Russia and providing military and other aid to Ukraine.

The E.U. has cut off most Russian energy supplies, as Ms. von der Leyen pushed member countries to procure natural gas jointly from alternative sources to try to head off spiraling energy costs. The effort largely worked and left E.U. countries closer than ever when it comes to energy policy.

She has been an advocate for the bloc’s expanding eastward to include Ukraine and Moldova as well as some Balkan states. And, in a recent interview with the Financial Times, she suggested that the E.U. needs to step up investments in its own defense, in the aftermath of former President Donald Trump’s comments about NATO and the United States’s commitment to it.

Under Ms. von der Leyen’s watch, human rights groups have decried a stiffening of E.U. external borders against migrants, even tolerating sometimes violent pushbacks by some E.U. countries, most notably Greece, which have been conducted with impunity. She has also led the union’s efforts to cut deals with budding autocracies such as Tunisia to keep migrants away and Azerbaijan to procure natural gas, they say.

Most recently, Ms. von der Leyen has come in for criticism from staff members and some E.U. leaders for her unqualified support of Israel. She has said that Israel’s operations in Gaza are in line with its right to self-defense, and has not offered comments suggesting that Israel should exercise restraint as the civilian death toll in Gaza has mounted.

Thousands of E.U. staff members have written at least three letters of complaint over her position on the conflict, and she has clashed with her top diplomatic official as well as some E.U. leaders, who believe she is too supportive of Israel to represent the bloc.

Ms. von der Leyen is very likely to secure a second term as president of the European Commission, but the selection process hasn’t even began yet. While Monday’s announcement means she is the chosen candidate for the job from the European mainstream conservative movement, other political groups — such as the Greens and the Social Democrats — will propose their own candidates.

The balance of power among those political movements will be gauged in the European Parliament elections in early June, which will take place across all 27 E.U. countries. Ms. von der Leyen’s political alliance is currently leading polls.

After the elections, E.U. leaders begin negotiations to decide a number of top offices, including president of the European Council — normally a former national leader whose job it is to organize and head up E.U. heads of government meetings and usher in consensus — and chief of the European External Action Service, the bloc’s diplomatic corps.

But the role of president of the European Commission is broadly regarded as the most important and prestigious.

If things go relatively smoothly, all new jobs will have been filled by the end of the year.

Christopher F. Schuetze contributed reporting from Berlin.

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