GERMANY’S Ursula von der Leyen narrowly secured the backing of the European Parliament at the plenary session in Strasbourg last week, with 383 votes (just nine more than the 374 she required) in favour of her landing the top job of Commission president in Brussels.
A total of 327 Euro deputies voted against her, while 22 abstained. Following a fortnight of political wrangling with the pro-EU parties, the outgoing federal defence minister (since 2013) relied heavily on far right and populist MEPs from Italy, Poland and Hungary to get over the line, which has already dented the legitimacy of her mandate.
Her own EPP political group (where Fine Gael sits) supported her in the secret ballot, with around two-thirds of the second largest S&D group, as well as Renew Europe (where Cork’s Billy Kelleher sits) and members of the ECR group.
The Greens and GUE/NGL – where Irish MEPs Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan and Matt Carthy sit – opposed Von der Leyen’s candidacy. Following the tight vote, the first woman to take over the reins of the EU’s executive, told the House she was ‘honoured’ and ‘overwhelmed’, adding that she would now start on her work programme and putting together a ‘highly-dedicated … and gender equal team.’
A physician by profession, she reiterated a call for ‘leaders to present the best candidates as Commissioners as possible’, expressing her firm commitment to ‘see as many men as women around the table’ from November 1.
‘If Member States do not propose enough female candidates,’ the mother-of-seven will ‘not hesitate to ask for new names’, adding that since 1958 there have been 183 Commissioners – only 35 were women.
The 60-year-old politician expressed her desire to make Europe the first carbon neutral continent in the world by 2050 and set more ambitious targets when it comes to reducing emissions.
On Brexit, she said the UK’s vote to leave the bloc had been a ‘serious decision’, adding that ‘we regret it but we respect it.’ She reiterated that the withdrawal agreement must remain as it is the ‘best and only deal possible for an orderly withdrawal’, but expressed her readiness for a further extension beyond the October 31 deadline ‘should more time be required for a good reason.’
The future Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen has pledged to table a new ‘Farm to Fork Strategy’ on sustainable food along the whole value chain as ‘we must preserve the vital work our farmers do to provide Europeans with nutritious, affordable and safe food’, according to the political guidelines for the next Commission (2019-2024).
She underlines that the preservation and restoration of the planet’s ecosystem must ‘guide all of our work … as climate change, biodiversity, food security, deforestation and land degradation go together.’
Describing herself as a ‘European by heart’, she sees the ‘next five years as an opportunity for Europe – to strive for more at home in order to lead in the world.’
Under an ambitious climate agenda, she promises to unveil a Green Deal for Europe in her first 100 days in office (by end of January 2020), which will include the first climate law to enshrine the 2050 climate-neutrality target into Community legislation and a Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.
All eyes will be on von der Leyen a she puts her gender equal team in place and attempts to keep these promises once she takes office on November 1.
Rose O’Donovan is Editor of the Brussels-based publication AGRA FACTS, which deals with agricultural policy.