Ursula von der Leyen is the next Commission President

She becomes the first woman to head the EU executive

Photo: EP Ursula von der Leyen

Today evening in the plenary in Strasbourg MEPs backed Ursula von der Leyen as the next President of the European Commission. In a vote carried out by secret paper ballot, 383 lawmakers gave thumbs up on her nomination, to 327 and 22 abstained. Thus, von der Leyen becomes the first woman to head the EU executive.

Earlier the same day, she presented before the lawmakers her political guidelines for the mandate of the next European Commission, which set her vision and action plan for a political partnership and an interinstitutional dialogue on the Union's priorities for the next five years. Her mandate will start on 1 November this year and will end on 31 October 2024.

Our most pressing challenge is keeping our planet healthy and this is the greatest responsibility and opportunity of our times, she underlined in her speech, adding that she wants Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050. She also pledged to put forward a Green Deal for Europe in her first 100 days in office. Saying that she will put forward the first ever European Climate Law, which will set the 2050 target into law, she revealed plans for sustainable European investment to provide €1tn in investments within a decade.

She also outlined her commitment for establishing an economy that serves the people, mentioning that “everyone needs to share the burden”, including those tech giants that conduct their business in Europe.

Ursula von der Leyen reiterated her promise for a gender-balanced College of Commissioners during her term and emphasised as well that she would therefore seek to define violence against women as a crime in the European treaties, in parallel to completing the EU's accession to the Istanbul Convention.

Concerning her commitment to rule of law, she explained that she intends to establish an EU-wide monitoring mechanism in parallel to existing measures. According to her, the European values also include a duty to save lives at sea and should translate into a humane border policy. She stated her support for a new pact on migration and asylum, and Dublin Regulation reform, adding that she intends to ensure that Frontex border guards number 10,000 not by 2027, but by 2024, and that all countries should shoulder their fair share of the burden.

She also talked about the idea for a two-year Conference for Europe as of 2020, in which citizens will take a leading and active role. She also emphasised the need for the Spitzenkandidaten system to be strengthened and that transnational lists should be reconsidered in future European elections. She also declared her full support for a right of initiative for the European Parliament, committing to put forward a legislative proposal in response to every resolution that is passed by a majority of MEPs.

During the debate in the Chamber on the presented vision, Manfred Weber, Chairman of the EPP Group, showing full support for von der Leyen, accented on the need to show citizens that Europe can change and do better. “We are committed to our electoral promises, and to the 40 million voters that gave us their trust. They expect us to deliver a fair and innovative Europe, a safe and secure Europe and an open Europe that is ready to trade with the world. We are convinced we can deliver these promises with Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission,” he stated.

Decisive for von der Leyen's election to the European Commission top job was the support of the Group of the Socialists and Democrats in the EP. The majority of its MEPs voted in favour, but this backing was not given easily and unconditionally. The group prepared in the preceding days a long list of questions to which she had to respond in writing. After an intense group meeting, the majority of the S&D MEPs agreed that the written commitments made by the candidate to deliver the progressive reforms demanded by the Group, as well as the further clarifications in the plenary debate in the morning, meant they would back her on the condition that she delivers on these promises, the S&D Group announced before the vote.

S&D Group leader Iratxe Garcia conceded that they have been very sceptical when the candidate met their group the previous week, “but over the past days we have to admit that she embraced our group's core demands, with specific proposals for legislation”.

Renew Europe Group also gave its full support to the election of the next President of the European Commission. The decision to support her has been conditional on an ambitious agenda for rule of law, climate, digitalisation and convergence between East and West. It is a great day for Europe to have a woman elected to lead the European Commission, and we are ready to work with her on the political priorities Renew Europe negotiated with her, said following the vote Renew Europe President Dacian Ciolos.

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