In the Summer issue of the Policy Bites (issue 4), we reported on the new proposed leadership of the European Commission (here). Since that time, following all the procedures, the European Parliament approved Ursula von der Leyen, first woman president of the European Commission, and her team of 15 men and 11 women for a College of Commissioners. They officially took office on December 1 , one month later than expected, after the Parliament rejected three of von der Leyen’s initial nominees — the Romanian, the Hungarian and French.
Priorities of the new President
Already in a plenary debate prior to the vote, Ursula von der Leyen reiterated her main policy priorities, including a strong focus on digitalization and tech issues, fresh drives to strengthen EU cooperation on economic and financial policies, and to step up foreign policy initiatives. Von der Leyen has also promised to make fighting climate change a centerpiece of her presidency by putting forward an ambitious Green Deal that will reshape all aspects of European life in a bid to preserve the planet. Also health agenda has been significantly scaled up as compared with Juncker’s priorities (more on this in the article below).
Ursula Von der Leyen is likely to face some political challenges as she seeks, during her first 100 days in office, to fulfil a list of policy promises that she made in order to win her own confirmation vote last July. These are among others: the Green Deal, a legal instrument on a fair minimum wage; binding pay transparency measures to promote gender equity; and legislation aimed at ensuring the ethical use of artificial intelligence.
The new president will also need work in an atmosphere of several divisions among EU countries. Germany and France, the EU’s richest and most influential countries, have serious disagreements on major issues, including EU expansion into the western Balkans, NATO and EU security policy, and the future of the eurozone. There are also other divisions among EU countries, especially over the contentious issues of migration and asylum policy and rule-of-law, as well as the looming complications of Brexit and tensions in relations with the United States.
Regarding Brexit, the outcome of a national election on December 12 held in United Kingdom will largely determine how things will play out. If Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Conservative Party win a majority, the U.K. will presumably leave on January 31 and von der Leyen and her team will shift focus to the inevitably difficult negotiations on a future trade relationship. But if the situation in Westminster remains deadlocked, it is impossible to predict the EU’s next steps.
The new president said: “This is an unsettled world, where too many powers only speak the language of confrontation and unilateralism, but it is also a world where millions of people are taking to the streets — to protest against corruption or to demand democratic change. The world needs our leadership more than ever. To keep engaging with the world as a responsible power. To be a force for peace and for positive change. We must show our partners at the United Nations they can rely on us, as a champion of multilateralism.”