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24th Oct 2020

Von der Leyen's final appeal to secure top EU post

For some 40 minutes, the European Commission presidential-hopeful Ursula von Der Leyen delivered a speech at the European Parliament in the hope of securing her post.

In a packed plenary chamber in Strasbourg, von der Leyen on Tuesday (16 July) first shook the hands of the group leaders and then launched into a speech that shifted from French, English and to German.

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In what she hopes will convince the more sceptical MEPs of her candidacy to become next European Commission president, von der Leyen made sweeping policy and proposals ranging on a new Green deal to fight climate in her first 100 days office, womens' rights, migration, child poverty, the economy, and rule of law.

She noted that there have been 183 commissioners since 1958, of which only 35 were women.

"We represent half the population, we want our fair share," she said, noting that one-in-five women have suffered violence in the European Union.

"I will propose to add violence against women on the list of EU crimes defined in the Treaty and European Union should join the Istanbul convention," she said.

Although von der Leyen appeared to be obtaining greater support in the lead-up to the speech from the centre-right European People's Party (EPP), the liberal Renew Europe, and the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), she still hopes to win over the Greens and the conservative European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) when it comes to the secret vote later this evening.

"We are going to have to fight, we are going to have to rise up for this Europe of ours, the whole world is called upon with disruptive elements apace" she said, noting that the some countries are turning towards authoritarian regimes and protectionism.

"None of these are options are for us," she said, laying out a vision of Europe based on solidarity she claims is rooted in Simone Veil, the late, first, and only, female president of any of the EU institutions.

But the spectre of von der Leyen's nomination outside the parliament's preferred system of lead candidacy ('Spitzenkandidaten'), as well as her support from far-right and populist governments in Hungary and Poland has tainted her support among the more pro-EU political group factions.

Von der Leyen made no reference to unresolved controversies surrounding her past as Germany's defence ministry, an issue that was not widely debated.

As for the content, she agreed that the European parliament should have the right to initiative, moved to have foreign affairs issues decided by a vote instead of unanimity among member states, and called for a relaunch of the EU's asylum and migration reforms.

The Green appeal

She appealed to the Greens by saying that Europe's most pressing challenge is "keeping our planet healthy."

"This is the greatest opportunity and challenge of our times," she said, pointing out that Europe needs to become the first climate neutral continent in the world by 2050.

"The current goal of reducing emissions by 40 percent by 2030 is not enough, we must go further, we must strive for more," she said, calling for a two-step approach to reduce emissions by up to 55 percent.

Among her plans is a 'Green Deal for Europe' in her first 100 days in office, that includes a first ever European climate law to legally-bind the 2050 deadline on emissions.

The deal includes a "European sustainable investment plan" to unlock some €1tn over the next decade through a climate bank.

But the Greens remain unconvinced on her proposals to curb climate emissions.

Green co-president Philippe Lamberts said her speech and the documents to support it "was a big step forward" given her failure last week to convince the group.

"I was delighted to her you say that you are personally committed to reducing by 2030 our CO2 emissions by half, you have taken up the Green idea of a carbon tax on our borders," he said.

But Lamberts said it still falls short, noting that a conditionality was emerging in her two-step plan to cut those emissions by 2030.

"Your ambitions fall short because of entrenched interests" he said, in a likely reference to the powerful German car industry.

The Socialist and Liberal dance

Iraxte Garcia Perez, the socialist group leader, appeared more supportive, noting that Von Der Leyen's ideas "are moving in the right direction".

"We don't want any kind of institutional crisis that will just further delay the changes Europe needs to see," she said.

Perez said binding objectives are needed to cut emissions by 2030, an investment plan for a sustainable Europe, economic flexibility and an European employment guarantee.

"Our political group will always support the European social pillar and more specifically, the child guarantee and the youth guarantee," she said, noting that socialists also back a directive on issues to improve the situation of workers.

Dacian Ciolos, the group leader of Renew Europe (the former Alde liberal group), made similar comments.

"The deal that you put forward today is a clear one and the pro-Europeans will certainly be giving you support," he said.

Ciolos praised von der Leyen for including a so-called Conference for the Future of Europe, a brainchild of French president Emmanuel Macron.

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