The European Parliament approved on Wednesday 27 the new College of Commissioners with a significant majority of 461 votes in favor, 157 against, and 89 abstentions. Ursula von der Leyen has become the first woman in EU’s history to lead the European Executive body.
It has taken longer than expected, but the former German Defense minister has succeeded to get most of the MEPs’ backings and will take office on December 1.
Despite failing to achieve a complete gender-balanced team, the new College of Commissioners will be the most equitable to this day with 15 men and 11 women.
The European People’s Party (EPP), the Socialist & Democrats (S&D), and the liberals from Renew Europe voted in favor, while the United Left (GUE/NGL) and the far-right group Identity and Democracy (ID) rejected the President-elect von der Leyen.
The Greens abstained and the conservatives (ECR) were divided over the new Commission.
Since von der Leyen was nominated by the 28 heads of State against the Parliament’s willing, the 61-year old German did not have an easy road to succeed Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission chief, especially during the hearings process.
On October, MEPs rejected the French, Hungarian, and Romanian nominees for commissioner, making clear their discontent with the European Council.
However, the support of the three largest political groups of the EU Assembly suggests that there will be a certain degree of convergence between the EU executive and legislative power over the next five years.
The pro-European character and centrist ideology seem to be the main common features between socialists, liberals, and moderate-conservatives. But this mandate will not be easy for the Commission, that must face stronger opposition from both leftists and extreme right groups in the hemicycle.
Another remarkable difference from Juncker’s Commission is that, for the first time, the United Kingdom will not have a representative among the EU top jobs.
Brexit may not be a reality yet, but prime minister Boris Johnson refused to propose a British Commissioner before the general election on December 12.
“I’ve never, ever made any secret about the fact that I will always be a remainer,” said von der Leyen to all MEPs.
New Commission’s priorities: “We will be global standard setters”
Climate, innovation and digitalization, and migration marked von der Leyen’s speech on the plenary. “The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy,” she said.
The EU leader promised to reach an agreement on the net-zero emission target for 2050 within her first 100 days in office.
The president-elect highlighted the need for a new industrial strategy to enable small and big business to innovate and to develop new technologies while creating new markets.
To achieve this, von der Leyen claimed a “massive investment” in innovation, research, infrastructure, housing, and the training of people throughout out EU’s budget and capital markets.
“This transition must be just and inclusive. Or it will not happen at all,” she added.
This gesture may be adressed to some countries like Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, which refuse to support the 2050 zero-emission objective and increase the ambition of the 2030 target until the EU agrees on an economic help to turn green.
Von der Leyen called on the EU Member States to complete the Capital Market Union in order to allow investment flow to where is needed and improve access to finance for small businesses and start-ups. She also supported the Banking Union to make EU’s financial system “stronger and more resilient.”
When addressing migration, von der Leyen toughened her speech. The German leader regretted the division among EU countries to define a common migration policy and defended the need to strengthen EU’s external borders while investing in countries of origin to improve living conditions.
“Europe will always provide shelter to those who are in need of international protection,” she indicated. “But we also have to ensure that those who have no right to stay, return home,” von der Leyen sentenced.
The EU towards the globe: “Champion of multilateralism”
Von der Leyen has referred to the new EU Executive as the “geopolitical Commission,” fearless of speaking “the language of confidence.”
The Spanish acting minister of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell will succeed Federica Mogherini as EU’s top diplomat on Sunday. The Catalan politician has earned a reputation for being direct and having a defiant attitude, which for some it is seen as a strength to speak EU’s mind in line with von der Leyen’s speech.
Calling the EU to be a “force of peace”, the president-elect focused on promoting “open and fair trade” while strengthening alliances through cooperation with other countries.
The former German minister preferred to avoid direct references to the current relationship with the U.S. “Yes, we have issues without any doubt,” she admitted, although insisted in the “ties” and “destiny” that the EU shares with the trans-Atlantic partners.
“The world needs our leadership more than ever,” von der Leyen claimed. “We can be the shapers of a better global order,” she concluded.