If — more likely when — Ursula von der Leyen decides to run for a second term as European Commission president, she’ll have to make a clear distinction between her activities on the campaign trail and work for the Commission, according to a document seen by POLITICO and drawn up by … Ursula von der Leyen!
Von der Leyen has drafted ethical standards for commissioners who want to run in the European election in early June, either as a candidate for the European Parliament or as their party’s lead candidate to become European Commission president (so-called Spitzenkandidat). The document, dated January 21, is set to be adopted by the College of Commissioners on Wednesday.
It makes clear that it’s absolutely fine to be a candidate and still do your Commission job, as long as the two don’t overlap — and you set up separate social media accounts.
The Commission chief has not yet said if she wants a second term but is expected to make an announcement next month, which would mean the rules she has now drafted would also apply to her. An incumbent running for reelection as a party’s lead candidate would be unprecedented and likely to lead to extra scrutiny on how von der Leyen will combine her job with being on the campaign trail.
Other European commissioners — such as Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius — are set to run for a seat in the European Parliament.
The good news for von der Leyen? Combining Commission tasks with the campaign trail is not a problem, according to the document, as taking part in a campaign “to seek election or re-election from the citizens is an intrinsic part of the institutional cycle in a democracy.”
But both roles need to be distinguished from one other as clearly as possible.
For example, political candidates cannot use the staff, travel budget, or other material resources from the Commission for campaign purposes. Candidates also have to create separate social media accounts and make a clear distinction between their statements as a European Commissioner and as a candidate.
While campaigning, candidates also have to make sure they continue to do their daytime job in the European Commission. The candidates also have to avoid potential conflicts of interest — or the perception of any conflict of interest — according to the document.
When there is any confusion with the rules, European Commissioners or their staff have to inform either von der Leyen or the Commission’s top civil servant, Secretary-General Ilze Juhansone.
Sarah Wheaton contributed reporting.