Swearing-in ceremony of the Commission at the Court of Justice of the EU, credit: EU, 2020
In a video clip that was broadcast in the Croatian parliamentary elections on Sunday to support the ruling party, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen appeared inside the Commission’s headquarters. Was it a mistake?
The chief spokesperson of the Commission had already tweeted before the elections that her appearance in the video was meant as a contribution in “her personal capacity” but that, regrettably, it had not been made clear in the final version of the video.
The video incident dominated the Commission’s press conference on Monday (6 July) with several journalists questioning if it was appropriate for the president to use Commission resources and offices in its headquarters in the Berlaymont building in Brussels to interfere in the elections in a member state.
The video had been made at the request of the office of Croatia’s prime-minister Andrej Plenkovic and might have influenced swing voters in the elections. According to the election count today, his party (HDZ) increased its number of seats in the Croatian parliament and will probably remain in power with the support of minor parties.
In the video, president von der Leyen can be seen against the backdrop of an EU flag in Berlaymont, saying “Safe Croatia” in Croatian. It took only about a few seconds but conveyed, in a symbolic sense, the support of the European Commission. She was followed by other politicians and acting prime-ministers from some member states saying the same.
All belong to the same political party group, the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), as Croatia’s prime minister.
The spokesperson acknowledged that an unintentional “mistake” had been made when recording the soundbite in Berlaymont, where the president works, and later when von der Leyen’s name was added by the video producers in Croatia, but stopped short of apologising for it. He assured that the mistake would not be repeated in the future.
While European Commissioners are allowed to participate in the political life of their home countries, they must comply with the Commission’s Code of Conduct. This, however, is up to the president to decide on a case by case basis, according to the spokesperson. Did she make a second mistake by expressing support for the ruling party in the Croatian elections?
According to the code, Commissioners shall inform the president of their intention to participate in elections, in which case they must suspend themselves from the work of the Commission. Members shall also abstain from making public statements or interventions on behalf of any political party of which they are members, except when standing for election/participating in an election campaign.