Wednesday

17th Aug 2022

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)
Listen to article

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

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.

EU 'stands by Afghans' but wants most kept away

The European Commission wants to help vulnerable Afghans to reach the EU, while seeking to resettle thousands of others. But an internal document also says those not welcomed should be returned to transit or so-called third countries.

EU pitches infrastructure investment plan to rival China

Ursula von der Leyen launched a global investment operation directed at infrastructure and transport. Its aim is to compete with the China's Belt and Road. "We want to create links and not dependencies," she said.

Von der Leyen doubles up on vaccine-donation pledge

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen praised the EU's vaccination roll-out as a success and announced that the EUn will donate 200 million additional doses to low-income countries - doubling its current pledge.

Analysis

Von der Leyen's moment to step up her game

"It is the opportunity she has to seize now to set the course for the remainder of her mandate," said Georg Riekeles from the European Policy Centre.

Agenda

UN annual meeting plus Poland in focus This WEEK

The Polish Constitutional Tribunal is holding a hearing on the issue of whether EU law has primacy in the country. It is not clear whether the tribunal will deliver a ruling.

Finland restricts Russian tourist visas

Russian citizens were circumventing the European airspace ban by driving to Helsinki airport, which was being used as a hub to fly to other tourist destinations. Finland is now restricting those border crossings.

Column

Is this strange summer a moment of change?

It is a strange, strange summer. The war in Ukraine continues, 60 percent of Europe is in danger of drought, and Covid is still around and could rebound in the autumn. At the same time, everyone is desperate for normalcy.

Opinion

A year of Taliban — only aid is keeping Afghan kids alive

It's a year since the Western military presence in Afghanistan ended. A year since panic-stricken people flocked to Kabul airport, trying to flee the country, and girls and women waited fearfully for the disintegration of their hard-won rights.

News in Brief

  1. Tens of thousands of Jews quit Russia since start of war
  2. Russia says GDP forecasts better than expected
  3. Spain 'hopeful' for new gas pipeline
  4. German troops return to Bosnia over instability fears
  5. Next UK PM candidates reject Scottish independence push
  6. Russia will not allow British spy plane overflight
  7. Discrimination in Germany remains high, new figures show
  8. US weighs plan to revive Iran nuclear deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  4. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us