The new face of the European Union – a Union that strives for more
Ursula von der Leyen will take over as the President of the European Commission on 1st November 2019. Her nomination by the European Council came as a surprise to many due to her lack of popularity at European level. Nevertheless, the Christian Democrat managed to get the support of the three biggest political groups in the European Parliament: the European People’s Party Group (von der Leyen’s political family, which also won the most seats in the European elections), the Social & Democrats, and Renew Europe (the Liberal Democrats).
Securing an absolute majority from the European Parliament (she received 383 votes in favour from a total of 747 MEPS) was not easy, however, the skilled politician managed to assure her supporters that the Commission’s political agenda will draw from common ideas and priorities that unite the whole of Europe. The smooth process of her election served as a relief for external stakeholders – including businesses – as it avoided an institutional crisis.
Ursula von der Leyen’s political guidelines for 2019-2024
In von der Leyen’s agenda for Europe, A union that strives for more, the President-elect proposes an ambitious plan which is designed to bring the EU closer to its people and needs.
As the first elected female president, von der Leyen aims to promote gender equality in “all of its senses”. As a first step, the new Commission itself will lead by example by forming a fully gender-equal College of Commissioners. Member States are currently in the process of sending their nominations (one per country) which ultimately have to be approved by the President-elect.
On climate action, the Commission aims to create the first European Climate Law which would enshrine the 2050 climate-neutrality target into law. Part of the European Green Deal, a Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 will be put in place. Von der Leyen also wants Europe to lead on the issue of single-use plastics.
Regarding the economy, the President-elect intends to support innovation by supporting small businesses with a dedicated strategy for small and medium-sized enterprises, including a private-public fund specialising in Initial Public Offerings. Working on Europe’s Social pillar remains a priority as it was during Juncker’s (her predecessor) mandate as well. The new Commission’s body also wants to offer better support to the unemployed by creating a European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme which aims to protect citizens and diminish the pressure on public finances.
And she wants to create a Europe fit for digital age: one of the main priorities on digitalisation is to ensure EU prioritises investments in Artificial Intelligence via the Multiannual Financial Framework and through public-private partnerships. Getting up to speed on digital skills is indeed a prerequisite for all levels of society because the future of work is digital. Hence, completing the EU Digital Single Market should remain high on the Commission’s agenda.
Back to political struggles: what to expect
The right ingredients for achieving a successful mandate would be hard work, better communication with EU citizens, and political stability. However, political stability is something that cannot be guaranteed. With more and more European citizens across the EU inclined to support nationalist and populist messages, the challenge to unite Europe remains.
The new face of the European Union 1:2 – Eastern Europe, where are you?
Uniting Europe isn’t going to be easy when there is a ‘ticking bomb’ that should not be ignored during the new European mandate. No Eastern European representative was elected in the key EU top positions. While the main reasoning behind that would be their domestic political inclinations towards nationalism and lack of constructive cooperation in the European Council, their isolation in the EU political scene could serve as a platform for future disputes including struggles when forming coalitions on particular policies such as immigration, environment or Single market etc.
Last but not least, with Brexit looming, von der Leyen’s first day in the office will also be the first day of the EU without the United Kingdom. If all goes according to Boris Johnson’s plan, Britain’s newly elected PM, Britain will be out of the EU on October 31st. A potential no deal Brexit would significantly disrupt businesses both in the UK and EU Member States, potentially overshadowing the smooth implementation of the von der Leyen long-term agenda.
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