29th Sep 2023

Von der Leyen issues rallying cry for more EU sovereignty

  • EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen told MEPs that Europe should and can do more on its own (Photo: European Commission)
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EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday (15 September) urged more European sovereignty - by calling for more independence in digital technology, defence, and a global investment programme.

In her second annual speech on the state of the union, von der Leyen also called for other countries to join in accelerating the fight against climate change.

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The commission chief hailed the EU's scientific capabilities at providing the most vaccines to the world, and the speed at which the bloc rolled out its digital Covid-19 vaccine certificate, as examples of the EU's resources and capacities.

"Europe can and clearly should be able and willing to do more on its own," she told MEPs in Strasbourg.

Von der Leyen called for a "European Chips Act" to ensure that semiconductors - vital for chips in anything digital - are produced in Europe, so that the bloc is not exposed to China and the US.

Von der Leyen added that digital independence is a "make-or-break issue".

The German politician also made a proposal for a global infrastructure programme to counter China's massive 'Belt and Road Initiative' investment push, calling it the EU version the "Global Gateway".

She also called for the EU to find the political will to fill in the security gaps that the US leaves behind as it retreats from policing the world.

Von der Leyen, herself a former German defence minister, called on EU countries to build forces that can intervene militarily abroad without US support.

"What has held us back until now is not just shortfalls of capacity, it is a lack of political will," she said, adding proposals on improving intelligence-sharing and a better common defence against cyber attacks.

She also announced that the EU would give 200m vaccine doses countries outside the block by mid-2022, on top of a previous commitment for 250m shots.

On the rule-of-law issue, von der Leyen said the commission will send out, in the "coming weeks", the first written notifications to member states - under the new conditionality mechanism that links EU funds to the respect for the rule of law.

The commission chief also said that the commission's annual rule-of-law report will include specific recommendations for governments from next year on.

More MEP policy-making?

MEPs urged von der Leyen for bolder, quicker action.

"What are we waiting for?," centre-right MEP Manfred Weber asked on defence. "Russia and China are waiting to fill the vacuum, and it would be fatal, we would wake in a pure where our children would not want to live," he added.

Liberal Romanian MEP Dacian Cioloș said the achievements listed by von der Leyen in her speech - the rate of vaccination, Covid-19 certificates, the recovery fund - were often forced on the EU by events. "On issues that solely depend on will alone, I don't see [us] producing results," he said.

Cioloș suggested the commission chief should spend more time on policy with MEPs rather than pleasing member states. "You are engaging in diplomacy with the council [of member states] rather than policymaking with us," he said.

He also urged von der Leyen to take action against the EU countries - Poland and Hungary - which have been challenging EU rules and values.

"Outbreaks of illiberalism need to be put out before the fire spreads," Cioloș said, adding that von der Leyen needs to find the "political courage" to use the rule-of-law conditionality tool that has been in force since the beginning of the year.

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