Ursula von der Leyen

Can Ursula von der Leyen Succeed In Centralising The EU?

As she made her pitch to the European Parliament to vote for her as the next President of the European Commission (EC), Ursula von der Leyen proposed a radical left-wing policy programme on taxes, climate change, migration and the rule of law. Her numerous pledges would require transferring yet more national sovereignty to the EC and increase Brussels’ role in every single aspect of economic and social life in Europe.

In order to ensure that the EU is ‘carbon neutral’ by 2050, the EC President vowed to implement a Carbon Border Tax that would apply to all non-European companies and introduce a European Climate Pact that would result in a change of behaviour among businesses and individuals.

She has also pledged to complete a European Banking Union and deepen the EU’s Economic and Monetary Union. Von der Leyen also wants to strengthen the euro’s international role.

Regarding technology, the EC President wants the EU to move towards a ‘Digital Single Market’ that would upgrade Europe’s safety and liability for digital platforms, services and products via a ‘Digital Services Act.’

Under her presidency, von der Leyen aims to ensure that the primacy of EU law presides over the national laws of member states when it comes to the rule of law via a ‘European Rule of Law Mechanism.’ There would be financial consequences for countries that refuse to obey these rules.

Although she has supported a European Army in the past, the EC President’s initial focus will be on creating a European Defence Union.

The EU has justified its new approach by stating that there are better regulations to ensure decision-making is open and transparent. They also want to improve their consultation with EU citizens through initiatives like inception impact assessments where the EC outlines new ideas for policies. Brussels intends to conduct impact assessments designed to analyse the possible economic, social or environmental impacts of a proposal. But their central goal is to ensure EU laws are fit for purpose. These reasons sound good in principle, but it is difficult to argue von der Leyen’s proposed reforms will solve the EU’s existential crisis.

A fully integrated Economic and Monetary Union is likely to exacerbate the eurozone crisis. As long as the EU is made up of independent nations with their own elected governments, their problems are going to require national solutions. Fiscal union would entail a ballooning of the EU budget. This would trigger arguing among the EU’s current 27 member states on how to share it out.

The EC’s biggest criticism has always been that it has a democratic deficit. Transferring the power to make budgets to a Brussels institution without citizens having any say over this measure would only increase the support of anti-EU parties, who performed well during this year’s European elections. Allowing the EU to further undermine national parliaments’ sovereignty over climate change, technology and the rule of law would also have the same consequences.

The tax harmonisation that would result from a fiscal union would lead to an increase in taxation. Countries like Ireland and Slovenia boosted their economies with innovative revenue policies like Ireland’s low corporation tax rate. They will be forced to apply high taxes and this will further damage Europe’s competitiveness when its growth rate is set to shrink from 4.8 percent in 2020 to 4.4 percent by 2024.

Von der Leyen will also struggle to make a European Defence Union a reality. The EU consists of five neutral member states. This would make a collective defence agreement impossible to implement. That is why NATO is recognised as the foundation of European defence. At a time when Russia is attempting to strengthen its grip over its Eastern European neighbours, countries like Poland are relying upon the US to help them. In June, President Trump promised Polish President Andrzej Duda more troops.

Therefore, as the new EC President attempts to save the EU by promising ‘more Europe’, she will encounter a host of obstacles that will make her aims problematic.