European Commission refuses to apologise after accusations of meddling in Croatia’s elections

Ursula von der Leyen has faced questions over her judgement after appearing in the clip. – Rex

The European Commission refused to apologise on Monday after its president appeared in a party political video for the ruling party before elections in Croatia. 

Ursula von der Leyen was accused of meddling in the national vote and of breaching expectations of neutrality after the video for the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which won Sunday’s election, was posted at the weekend.

The commission’s chief spokesman said on Monday the video clip, which was filmed in the EU executive’s studios by its staff, was meant as a contribution “in her personal capacity”. 

He told reporters at the daily press briefing in Brussels that “mistakes” were made, including the use of a backdrop featuring the Commission headquarters and the EU flag, but refused to say sorry. 

“Mistakes were made and the important thing is to make sure that such mistakes are not repeated,” he said, after numerous questions over whether Mrs von der Leyen would apologise for the gaffe. 

The spokesman blamed the video’s Croatian producers for adding a title reading European Commission President to the clip of Mrs von der Leyen.

He said Mrs von der Leyen thought it was “”good thing for European democracy” for commissioners to have “an active political life”, provided they respected their code of conduct. 

The commission president was reported to the European Ombudsman, which investigates maladministration in the EU institutions, after breaking the long-standing taboo. 

“She wishes to ensure that the appropriate procedures are in place to avoid such an unintentional error creeping in again in the future,” the spokesman said. 

Croatia’s HDZ, which must now try and form a coalition government,  is a member of the centre-right pan-EU European People’s Party, which counts Mrs von der Leyen as a member. 

Other EPP politicians, such as the leaders of Austria, Latvia and Bulgaria and Ireland former prime minister Leo Varadkar, as well as Croatia’s EU Commissioner  Dubravka Šuica,, appeared in the video. Angela Merkel, an ally of Mrs von der Leyen, did not.