The start has been successful. Despite a postponed vote, the vast majority of the European Parliament voted in favor of the CDU politician, who now wants to go down to business immediately, as she proclaimed.
On Wednesday in Strasbourg, the European Parliament confirmed Ursula von der Leyen’s new EU Commission. 707 of the 751 MEPs participated in the vote, resulting in 461 yeas in favor of the Commission and 157 nays, while 89 abstained. It is a promising result and even outshines than her predecessor’s vote fourteen years ago. Jean-Claude Juncker received only 422 in favor at the time.
Van der Leyen’s reign will begin on December 1. Prior to her vote this week, she had announced her vision for a better Europe that would accelerate and lead the debate regarding climate protection, digitization as well as in tackling the immigration conundrum.
She furthermore announced a subsequent major shift in Europe that would affect society and the economy if her visions were to materialize. “We do this because it is the right thing, not because it is going to be easy.” Her main message was just as clear: “Let’s get to work.”
With this level of aspirations, expectations are equally high, particularly due to plenty of promises she has made in the past few months due to pressure from the EU Parliament. The apparent headline issue: climate change. Here, von der Leyen has pledged to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Her solution, a Green New Deal, one of the en vogue terms of 2019, von der Leyen seeks to present within her first 100 days in office.
An outline already exists, however. The EU target for greenhouse gas reduction by 2030 is set to increase from 40 percent to 50 or even 55 percent. Moreover, to hinder third world companies with lower climate stipulations to pursue environmental dumping, a “CO2 border tax” will likely be introduced.
Another hot topic remains immigration. Von der Leyen has hence plans for external border protection, by increasing the EU border authority Frontex to 10,000 officials by 2024, not by 2027 as the EU originally proposed. In addition, she plans a new attempt to stop the gridlock within the EU’s asylum law, which remains in need of serious reforms. In the controversial NGO sea rescue issue, she seeks “a more permanent answer” and not as a solution on a case by case basis.
Meanwhile, Poland and Hungary have hitherto not only blocked all possible solutions to migration issues but are facing criminal proceedings for breaches of the rule of law that are also ongoing against both countries. On the issue of the Leyen, which was dependent on votes from Eastern Europe in their narrow election in the European Parliament in July, was long restrained. Now she demanded that Europe should “never compromise”.
Other topics she addresses are the fight against youth unemployment, “fair” minimum wages, “highest standards” in foreign trade in terms of climate and worker protections, and the controversial start of accession negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania.
On the never-ending subject of Brexit, von der Leyen believes that the London-negotiated stance agreement was “the only and best possible” deal.
All in all, von der Leyen has portrait herself as an ambitious visionary, who seeks to strengthen the Union and generate more participation from all member states. It remains to be seen to what extent her vision can become a reality. Continuous disputes within the Union, particularly between France and Germany, will not help the cause.