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What We Know About Ursula von der Leyen, the New European Commission President

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Ursula von der Leyen is the first woman ever chosen to be the leader of the European Commission. It is the personal bet of Angela Merkel before leaving her term as Germany’s Chancellor. Von der Leyen has been confirmed by a tiny majority of just nine votes. That tells very much the challenges she will face in her four-year term.

By Tuesday, she supposedly had the support of the heads of the political families who theoretically controlled 500 votes, but the fact was only 383 positive votes materialise. To succeed in this crucial votation, Angela Merkel had to convince several non-mainstream parties such as Poland’s Law and Justice or Italy’s Five Star movement.

The long-term concern for her now will be her potential to continue gaining majorities. The EU parliament is currently highly fragmented, so it will be difficult for her to create a stable coalition with which to accomplish her policies. Rumour has it that on Tuesday night dozens of representatives of the European People’s Party turned against her, partly as a reaction of her policy programme, too biased to the left.

Her Background

Ursula Von der Leyen was born in Brussels. Her family moved to Germany when she was 13. She studied economics at the London School of Economics and medicine in Hanover. Besides German, she is fluent in English and French. At the age of 60, she is the mother of seven children.

Once upon a time, she dreamed about a federal European Union similar to the USA or Germany. Now, she is a realist and declares herself happy with a multicultural Europe. She has been a member of the conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) since 2005.

She was appointed Germany’s Defence minister in 2013. As defence minister, she has championed the idea to boost Germany’s military involvement in the NATO. While in her appointment, Mrs von der Leyen was questioned in relation to an investigation about spending irregularities, as her department was accused of questionable private contract awarding to consultants worth millions of euros.

 

Her Political “White Paper”

 

She presented herself as a candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission with the political equivalent of a  White Paper. She titled her document ” A Union that strives for more – My agenda for Europe

 

 

For the generation of my children, Europe is a unique aspiration.

To match this aspiration with action, we must rediscover our unity and inner strength.

If elected, I will strengthen the links between people, nations and institutions. Between expectations and delivery. Between words and deeds. My Commission will listen to the people of Europe and be bold where it makes sense for us to act, leaving national, regional and local actors to deliver where they are best placed to do so.

She divided her document into six political guidelines:

  • A European Green Deal
  • An economy that works for people
  • A Europe fit for the digital age
  • Protecting our European way of life
  • A stronger Europe in the world
  • A new push for European democracy

A European Green Deal

In this chapter, she aspires to make Europe “the first climate-neutral continent“. She acknowledges that this goal is one of the most significant challenges but also a great opportunity.

To help us achieve our ambition, I will propose a European Green Deal in my first 100 days in office.

Her plan will include the first European Climate Law to enshrine the 2050 climate- neutrality target into law.

As part of the European Green Deal, she will also present a Biodiversity Strategy for 2030, a zero-pollution plan, and the abolition of single-use plastics.

An economy that works for people

Her economic plan towards this goal includes more support for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which represents, according to this document, 99% of all businesses and 85% on new job creation.

I want to make it easier for small businesses to become large innovators.

She will commit herself and her administration to complete the Capital Markets Union to ensure SMEs have access to the financing they need.

Social Policies

I believe it is high time that we reconcile the social and the market in today’s modern economy

This is why I will put forward an action plan to fully implement the European Pillar of Social Rights.

As measures to achieve it, she proposes a European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme

Equality: She proposes new anti-discrimination legislation as part of her European gender strategy.

Taxation: She proposes an urgent tax reform to fit the realities of the modern global economy, as the current taxation “does not capture the new business models in the digital world“.

I will ensure that the taxation of big tech companies is a priority. I will work hard to ensure the proposals currently on the table are turned into law.

Europe fit for the digital age

She wants Europe to profit from the opportunities coming from the digital age. She asks for a joint European standard for 5G networks, and achieve technological sovereignty in crítical areas.

She also has room for Blockchain technologies.

To lead the way on next-generation hyperscalers, we will invest in blockchain, high-performance computing, quantum computing, algorithms and tools to allow data sharing and data usage.

Protecting our European way of life

Under this section, she strives to defend the core values and strengthen the rule of law, fight terrorism and a new pact on migration and asylum.

I will propose a New Pact on Migration and Asylum, including the relaunch of the Dublin reform of asylum rules.

She also wants to “take Customs Union to the next level“.

A stronger Europe in the world

She wants Europe to be a “unique brand of responsible global leadership” with Multilateralism as a guiding principle.

She says she believes in free trade “because it works“. To strengthen trade, she will appoint a Chief Trade enforcement Officer “to improve the compliance and enforcement of our trade agreements”.

I intend to lead the efforts on updating and reforming the World Trade Organization.

Brexit

She will be “ready to pave the way for an ambitious and strategic partnership with the United Kingdom.”

About the Withdrawal Agreement:

The Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the United Kingdom is the best and only deal possible for an orderly withdrawal.

Europe’s defence

Although she recognises the value of Europe’s NATO’s membership, she intends to increase the European Defence Fund to support research and development, to “open up major opportunities for our high-tech industries”.

A new push for European democracy

I want to strengthen the partnership between the European Commission and the European Parliament.

I believe we should give a stronger role to the voice of the people, the European Parliament, in initiating legislation. I support a right of initiative for the European Parliament.

 

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