European Commission comments on von der Leyen's support for HDZ election campaign

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07.07.2020.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and PM Andrej Plenkovic

The European Commission president recorded a short video message supporting the Croatian Democratic Union's election campaign as a private individual, and she believes Commission members are allowed to act in campaigns in member states even though in this case some mistakes were made, a Commission spokesman said on Monday.

On Friday, the last day of campaigning in Croatia, the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) released a brief video in which several European People's Party (EPP) officials, including several prime minsters of member states, repeat HDZ's election slogan in Croatian - Sigurna Hrvatska (A safe Croatia).

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen recorded her message in the Commission's headquarters in Brussels with the EU flag in the background, which led to criticism on social media, particularly on Twitter.

The majority of the complaints claimed that the Commission president needs to be politically neutral when it comes to electioneering in member states.

Commission spokesman Eric Mamer responded on Twitter on Monday saying: "The President recorded a short sound bite for use in a video involving a number of EPP politicians. It was meant as a contribution in her personal capacity. Regrettably, this was not made clear in the final version of the video."

Instead of closing the chapter on this incident the tweet just led to even more critical comments.

On Monday morning Mamer told a regular press conference that the video was just one of the messages in a series that the president recorded on Friday morning.

Following a request by Prime Minister Plenkovic's cabinet on Friday morning, the president recorded a brief video recording in the context of the election campaign in Croatia, Mamer said, adding that she had recorded several video messages that day in her capacity as Commission president. After that she recorded the message for the HDZ with the same backdrop, in the Commission's headquarters with the European flag, which should have been recorded on her own behalf and not as Commission president.

That was a mistake and later in Zagreb her title was added which was a second mistake, Mamer explained.

Mamer underlined that the video supporting the HDZ should not have been recorded in the Commission's headquarters and that the president has now issued clear instructions to her cabinet that mistakes like that will not occur in future.

On the other hand the president thinks that it is good for European democracy for members of the cabinet to be active in political life and that they can do things like that but in appropriate conditions.

In addition to Ursula von der Leyen the video shows messages by CDU party leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, head of the EPP group in the European Parliament Manfred Weber, Latvian Prime Minister Arturs Krisjanis Karins, EPP President Donald Tusk, Commission Vice President Dubravka Suica, Bulgarian Prime Minister Bojko Borisov, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa, Cyprian President Nicos Anastasiades, Irish Deputy Prime Minister Leo Varadkar and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

They all say "Sigurna Hrvatska" in Croatian except for Jansa who said in Slovenian, "Varna Hrvaska." 

Some questions on social media asked why Chancellor Angela Merkel didn't send a message,which was explained by saying that she doesn't head the party anymore unlike the other heads of state who appeared in the video.