Von der Leyen’s moment to step up his game
“The state of the European Union? It could have been much worse,” said Belgian Green MP Philip Lamberts ironically during a press briefing in Strasbourg on Tuesday 14 September, a day before the speech of the President of the Commission European Union Ursula von der Leyen on the Union.
This will be a key message that von der Leyen will capitalize on in his second State of the Union address: with the leadership of the EU, Europe has managed to vaccinate 70% of its adult population, introduced a laissez-faire -pass Covid-19 which saved the summer – at least for some – and deployed an 800 billion euro stimulus fund to help member states’ economies bounce back.
It could have been a lot worse.
It may seem that von der Leyen has lived up to the saying of the founding father of the EU, Jean Monnet, that “the EU will be forged in crises and will be the sum of the solutions adopted in these crises”. At least on the Covid-19. Because the other crises – migration, rule of law, climate crisis – have only worsened.
Preparations for von der Leyen’s second State of the Union address began long before the committee’s summer recess, and for good reason.
“She must now seize the opportunity to set the course for the remainder of her term,” said Georg Riekeles of the European Policy Center, stressing that Covid-19 struck before the von der Leyen commission passed its first 100 days in power. .
After more than 18 months in crisis mode, it can politically relaunch its priorities: greening the economy and fighting climate change, defending a digital transformation and geopolitically placing the EU in the global arena.
With German Chancellor Angela Merkel halfway through and France entering electoral mode early next year, von der Leyen will need to show political leadership, even if his priorities are not called into question by the elections in Germany and in France.
“With Merkel’s departure, von der Leyen loses a mentor, and she and [European Council president] Charles Michel will have to step up, “said Riekeles.
There will be less political capacity to push EU priorities forward in Berlin and Paris, as Merkel’s successor learns the ropes in Brussels, and France avoids tough debates during her election campaign.
Riekeles argues in a discussion paper for the European Policy Center, a think tank, that Europe’s volatile politics are likely to be von der Leyen’s biggest challenge.
“The popular fallout on migration and foreign policy pressures, rule of law challenges and transformational climate action and technology politics are inevitable. But if it got out of hand, Europe would be ungovernable. C ‘that’s why von der Leyen needs to improve his game in big European politics, “he wrote.
One way for her to take on a better managerial role would be to delegate more tasks to her politically experienced lieutenants in the College of Commissioners, whereas so far she has been seen as relying too much on a close group of advisers. .
Von der Leyen “personally associated herself with” two promises that she will have to address in her speech, the green deal and the creation of a political commission, argued Susi Dennison, senior policy researcher at the Council European Foreign Relations, a think tank
“Things seem pretty difficult for them,” she added, stressing that while European leaders were essentially in agreement on the green deal, its implementation was in question, amid internal concern. growing trend in rising energy prices.
In his speech, von der Leyen will likely issue a call to arms while sending a political message that the transition will be fair and the costs will be fair.
On the geopolitical front, von der Leyen will address the new reality that EU leaders had to realize during the disorderly US withdrawal from Afghanistan: the need for the EU to be able to defend its own interests, so as the United States increasingly turns its attention to Asia and disengagement from Europe.
Dennison expects the head of the German commission to call for an EU “more robust on the various dimensions of sovereignty”.
“We may have ambitions for the geopolitical world, but the EU is not there yet,” Dennison said, adding that von der Leyen was likely to address the importance of coming together and focusing on common interests and threats across the EU.
“We need a clear direction on what we have to do,” German MEP Manfred Weber, group leader of the European People’s Party (EPP), the political family to which belongs, also told reporters in Strasbourg on Tuesday. von der Leyen, calling Afghanistan withdrawal a “game changer”.
“Europe must shoulder its responsibilities,” he said, adding that Bond Der Leyen’s speech should include “hopefully a wake-up call”.
Von der Leyen must bridge the deep divisions among EU members when it comes to attitudes towards migration, tax policy or core values.
As his committee began to try a new, more conciliatory tone with Poland and Hungary – two countries that have come under EU scrutiny for retreating on EU values - in relation to the commission of his predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker, this did not produce results.
Recently, the commission has stepped up the pressure and used the leverage of the EU stimulus fund to put pressure on Warsaw and Budapest over long-standing concerns about corruption and judicial independence.
The committee also last week asked the European Court of Justice for daily fines against Warsaw for failure to comply with previous court rulings.
John Morijn, professor of law and politics at the University of Groningen, however, said that while the commission’s recent efforts were welcome, “the dialogue should be conditional” on Poland and Hungary doing good. faith and sincere mutual cooperation in their relations with EU institutions.
“It would be a powerful message [from von der Leyen],” he said.