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The new story vs the old agenda: should EU strengthen with the new President of the EU Commission?

German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen got her post of European Commission President after a long rounds of negotiations. Her nomination seemed quite unpredictable for many, and number of those who supported this choice scarcely prevails those opposing.

What would be the future of the Union with the new leader? Let’s try to look through her statements reflecting her vision of the EU.

As newly-elected leader she promised a “Green Deal for Europe,” more equal representation of women, and an extension of the Brexit timetable if needed.

By putting her name forward, Europe’s heads of state have sent a clear signal, said Guntram Wolff of Bruegel, a Brussels-based think tank. “We don’t want to appease the populists. We don’t want a half-hearted Europe; we want a courageous Europe.”

Her critics fault her for failing to sufficiently modernize Germany’s military. They also point to a parliamentary commission that is currently investigating procurement practices in her ministry. She herself may have to testify later this year.

Unpopular at home after serving more than five years in Germany’s unloved ministry of defense, Ms. von der Leyen is respected in much of the rest of Europe. At least in Germany, an opinion poll by public broadcaster ARD found that 56 percent of respondents did not think she was a good choice for the job of Europe’s top bureaucrat.

Being defense minister, she urged for an ambitious integration of national defense structures and ultimately a “European Army,” which remains a distant dream.

“My aim is a United States of Europe – along the lines of the federal states of Switzerland, Germany or the U.S.A.,” she told the German magazine Der Spiegel in 2011.

In 2016, she repeated this vision in another interview: “I imagine the Europe of my children or grandchildren not as a loose union of states trapped by national interests.”

But others warn that the rise of nationalism threatens European cohesion and has made the prospect of surrendering sovereignty on sensitive issues like taxation and national security even harder. People are fearful of losing their national identities and European integration needs to be mindful of that.

“You can’t win against nationalism with internationalism,” she told The New York Times in January. “You need the nation, too.”

At a time when concerns about social injustice and fears of migration have fueled populist and nationalist movements across Europe, Ms. von der Leyen brings an intriguing mix of conservative and liberal values to the table.

Her supporters say she was a transformative family minister who gave paid parental leave to German men and lobbied hard for boardroom quotas.

Later, as defense minister, they note, she fought hard for military budget increases and ultimately oversaw an expanding role for German troops, from Mali to Lithuania.

She may now be the one defending Europe’s interests before President Trump, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and China’s President Xi Jinping.

She has made some tough noises on all three fronts already.
“America is not its presidents,” she said about trans-Atlantic relations, scarcely hiding her dislike of Mr. Trump, while speaking about the growing “alienation” with Mr. Putin and warning against being naïve about China’s rise and intentions.

Europe, she told The New York Times aboard her ministry’s plane in January, has had a series of wake up calls. Now it needs to act.
Today it is time for act for Ms. von der Leyen to breathe the new life into EU integration idea.

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