The final debate between the candidates for the Commission presidency could be described as sterile and lacking anything like tension or vigor. Though the participants were clearly better prepared than they were for the first debate in Maastricht, their monologue-like statements were never going to arouse interest, despite the introduction of stage effects and changing lighting. Even more so, since their exchanges did not deviate for an instant from the party lines to which each of the candidates had to adhere.

Regarding the migration issue, the socialist Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmidt attacked the EPP candidate and sitting Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over the Tunisia deal, though this was, of course, agreed during his own tenure as one of the EU’s 26 commissioners in the Berlaymont. Ursula von der Leyen once again focused on the need to combat the traffickers, noting that “we should choose who enters the EU,” not the criminals. The Green Party’s Terry Reintke stressed that “toxic populist debate has no solutions to offer,” while bringing legal channels of immigration into the discussion.

Both Nicholas Schmidt and Renew candidate Sandro Gozzi attacked Ursula von der Leyen for her post-election cooperations with, inter alia, Georgia Meloni. “I do not consider either the ECR or the ID to be democratic parties,” noted the socialist Schmidt, making it clear that he would not cooperate with the far right.

Sandro Gozzi spoke of two far-right groupings in the parliament: the ECR and ID.

The President of the Commission focused on the fact that any cooperations entered into will be with leaders and nations that are pro-Europe, pro-Ukraine, anti-Putin and supportive of the Rule of Law. Asked whether Italian Prime Minister Meloni meets these criteria, Ursula von der Leyen noted that she works very well with her and the other leaders in the Council, adding that Meloni is pro-EU and anti-Putin. “She is very clear on that,” the EPP candidate noted, adding that if Meloni also supports the Rule of Law, “we can offer to work together.”

At the same time, the Commission President spoke in favor of Community-funded programs such as a Europe air defense shield proposed by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk in a letter to the Commission.

“We need to improve our defense industry, make sure that we bring the fragmentation within the EU to a halt, and work on common European projects—for example, an air defense ‘sky shield’ for the whole of Europe proposed by Mitsotakis and Tusk,” said Ursula von der Leyen.

As the leaders’ letter stresses, “The European Union needs a game-changer, a bold initiative that will send a clear and strong message to our friends and foes, to our allies and competitors alike, that the EU is taking its defense seriously.” Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Donald Tusk note that they look forward to discussing the proposed initiative at the upcoming Summit on June 27–28.

The issue of sanctions on Israel were raised by the left-wing candidate, Walter Bayer. Ursula von der Leyen spoke about Israel’s right to defend itself while respecting international law, while stressing that everything possible must be done to protect the people in Gaza while looking ahead to a two-state solution.

Of course, despite any differences of opinion expressed in similar discussions, as a European official noted after the debate, “let’s not forget that decision-making in the EU requires a convergence of views among member states.” Finally, Brussels insiders asked whether the time hadn’t come to find an alternative to tele-debates of this sort, which are intended to motivate people to vote but could well achieve the exact opposite.