New President of the European Commission
As the first woman in history to be elected President of the European Commission, and with only a narrow majority in the European Parliament, Ursula von der Leyen takes the helm at a critical time, and has a challenging road ahead of her.
Having secured 383 votes in the European Parliament yesterday evening – only nine votes over the required minimum – Ursula von der Leyen will take over from Jean-Claude Juncker and begin her five-year term on 1 November 2019.
Prior to that, Ms von der Leyen will have a busy summer in Brussels requesting EU Member States to nominate both male and female candidates for the next college of Commissioners, which she intends to be gender balanced. She will also be preparing her work programme based on the priorities outlined in her speech to the European Parliament on the day of her election, 16 July.
In order to secure a majority support in the Parliament, Ms von der Leyen promised to address some of the main policy priorities championed by the major EU political groups.
Although the Greens opposed her candidacy on the basis that her climate and environmental targets are not high enough to address the urgent need, Ms von der Leyen promised to put climate and environmental policy as a top priority for the next Commission. She expressed her commitment to make Europe "the first climate neutral continent" by 2050 and to increase the emissions reduction target for 2030 to 55%. The proposed climate measures include a carbon border tax and Just Transition Fund to support those most affected by the transition. Furthermore, Ms von der Leyen proposed a new European Sustainable Investment Plan, involving a partial conversion of EIB funds into a "climate bank" to provide €1 trillion of investment over the coming decade.
In her appeal to the S&D Group, Ms von der Leyen promised to work towards a fair social market economy in Europe. Measures to reach this will include the full implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, a permanent Youth Guarantee, and the introduction of a Child Guarantee. Ms von der Leyen also pledged to ensure the minimum wage in all Member States; to set up a European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance scheme; to improve the labour conditions of platform workers; and to promote better work-life balance. Another key point concerned reforming the EU and international tax systems in order to ensure that everyone makes their fair contribution, especially big technology firms.
Ms von der Leyen promised to defend the EU core values, including rule of law, and expressed her support for an additional comprehensive European Rule of Law Mechanism. She plans to propose a new Pact on Migration and Asylum, including the re-launch of the Dublin reform of asylum rules – issues of primary concern to Renew Europe.
Some of the more controversial points from her speech included her support for qualified majority decision-making in the areas of foreign and security policy; a further extension of the date for the UK's withdrawal from the EU; and the right of legislative initiative for the European Parliament.
All in all, the next President of the European Commission has a challenging road ahead of her, as a narrow majority in the Parliament means she will need to work even harder to gain approval for her policy priorities.