Von der Leyen’s Geopolitical Commission: Vindicated by Events?

Författare: Håkansson Calle

On taking office in 2019, Ursula von der Leyen declared that she would lead a ‘geopolitical’ Commission. In this analysis, political scientist Calle Håkansson shows that this ambition had a larger impact than many expected. Developments since also point to a continued active and strategic role for the European Commission. (2024:7epa)

When she assumed office five years ago, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared she would lead a ‘geopolitical’ Commission. What happened when this ambition was put into practice? To what extent did the aim of becoming a more geopolitical actor steer the policy agenda, and how did it affect the intra-institutional workings of the EU?

In this European Policy Analysis, Calle Håkansson, associate research fellow at the Swedish Institute of International Affairs (UI), takes stock of the Commission’s work under von der Leyen’s leadership, against a background of global challenges, external crises and intensifying geopolitical rivalries.

Highlighting key policy domains, the analysis shows that initiatives related to trade and industrial policy, in particular, have been developed in line with the geopolitical ambitions. Moreover, the Commission has been a key player in efforts to fund and supply the defence of Ukraine after Russia’s invasion. The war also had a strong influence on the Commission’s wider policies and their outcomes, as did the Covid-19 pandemic.

Overall, the author argues that the von der Leyen Commission took on a larger geopolitical role than many anticipated, and that the result could be described as quite impressive.

However, this expanded role has at times put strain on relations with other EU institutions. Critics have also pointed to a lack of consultation both within the Commission and with member states. And, more broadly, a stronger geopolitical role for the Commission could become a risk for the Union's identity as a liberal actor.

Looking ahead, the author concludes, we can expect the incoming European Commission to continue being an active and strategic geopolitical actor within a range of policy areas.