Ursula von der Leyen does not allow herself to be photographed when she calls the right-wing radical Prime Minister of Italy with a friendly smile


Ursula von der Leyen calls Italy’s new prime minister with a revealing picture above her sofa.Image © European Union, 2022

Oh, what a lovely message from Ursula von der Leyen. The President of the European Commission announced via Twitter on October 25 that she had had a pleasant first telephone conversation with Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s new Prime Minister. Translated from English: ‘We will work together to tackle the important challenges of our time, from Ukraine to energy. I look forward to a first personal meeting in Brussels in the near future.’ The text was accompanied by a photo taken during that phone call by someone from the von der Leyen team.

There is the EC president on the phone and sitting on a friendly pink sofa with orange cushions. A parquet floor, the ficus that just peeks into the picture and a not too expensive carpet in a home-like style – definitely an office environment. Inquiries to this paper’s EU correspondent reveal that we are indeed looking at Von der Leyen’s workspace, located on the thirteenth floor of Berlaymont, the European Commission headquarters in Brussels.

Von der Leyen will no doubt sit on that bench more often on the phone with politicians, heads of state and presidents. It is a lovely place. Perhaps she chose the sofa fabric herself; it has the same salmon color as one of her favorite jackets. But that’s not the point right now.

Nationalist interests

The fact is that the President of the European Commission called the Prime Minister of Italy, leader of the radical right-wing party Fratelli d’Italia. She no longer calls for Italy to leave the EU, but still believes that her Italian government’s nationalist interests should be better represented in Brussels.

Ursula von der Leyen didn’t just sit on the pink bench for that phone call. She definitely didn’t have a team member taking a photo for social media for fun. Hey, it’s politics. This is diplomatic imaging at the highest level.

The evidence immediately hangs over her head: an enlarged print of a historic photo from March 25, 1957. It was the day the Treaty of Rome was signed, marking the birth of the European Economic Community (EEC). Delegates from Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and West Germany thus laid the foundations for today’s EU (along with the Treaty of Paris establishing the European Coal and Steel Community six years earlier). They met in the Great Hall of the Capitoline Museums in Rome, which features richly decorated wooden doors, sculptures of important popes and 17th-century frescoes by Giuseppe Cesari. Talk about housing.

No one knows who took this photo at the time. I occasionally came across it on the internet in a post-colored version, but it’s good that they chose the original black and white photo in Ursula von der Leyen’s office. A colored photo, certainly in combination with that couch, would have looked too kitschy, too trivial. All too harmless. Now the balance is just right.

Anti-fascist collaboration

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, is sitting on a pink sofa, smiling kindly, and on the phone with Giorgia Meloni, the radical right-wing prime minister of the country where the basis of European anti-fascist cooperation. was laid nearly seventy years ago. . The image above her head is not only a reference to that, you can also see it as a subtle warning to Meloni.

You belong to us, Giorgia, we are family. We look forward to a fantastic collaboration, completely in line with tradition. Just leave the door open for now. So nice to talk to you. Are you coming to Brussels soon?

An earlier version stated that the 17th century Italian painter was named Giuseppe Cesare. This is incorrect: the artist’s name is Giuseppe Cesari.

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