“The state of the European Union? Could have been much worse,” quipped Belgian Inexperienced MEP Philip Lamberts at a Strasbourg press briefing on Tuesday (14 September), a day earlier than EU Fee president Ursula von der Leyen’s speech on the union.
This will likely be a key message that von der Leyen will capitalise on in her second state-of-the-union speech: with the EU’s management, Europe managed to vaccinate 70 % of its grownup inhabitants, launched a Covid-19 cross that saved summer season – no less than for some – and has been rolling out an €800bn restoration fund to assist member states’ economies to rebound.
It might have been a lot worse.
It’d seem to be von der Leyen has lived up to the EU founding father, Jean Monnet’s, dictum that the “EU will be forged in crises, and will be the sum of the solutions adopted in those crises”. At the least on Covid-19. As a result of the opposite crises – migration, rule of regulation, local weather disaster – solely deepened.
Preparations for von der Leyen’s second state-of-the-union speech began lengthy earlier than the summer season break within the fee, and with good purpose.
“She has to seize the opportunity now to set the course for the remainder of her mandate,” stated Georg Riekeles from the European Coverage Centre, declaring that Covid-19 hit earlier than the von der Leyen’s fee had spent its first 100 days in workplace.
After greater than 18 months in crisis-fighting mode, she will politically relaunch her priorities: greening the economic system and preventing local weather change, championing a digital transformation, and geopolitically place the EU within the world enviornment.
With Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel half-way out the door, and France getting into election mode early subsequent yr, von der Leyen will want to present political management, even when her priorities aren’t challenged by the elections in Germany and France.
“With Merkel leaving, von der Leyen is losing a mentor, and she and [European Council president] Charles Michel will need to step up,” Riekeles stated.
There will likely be much less political capability to push EU priorities in Berlin and Paris, as Merkel’s successor learns the ropes in Brussels, and France shies away from troublesome debates throughout its election marketing campaign.
Riekeles argues in a dialogue paper for the European Coverage Centre, a think-tank, that Europe’s risky politics is probably going to be the most important problem for von der Leyen.
“Popular fall-out over migration and foreign policy pressures, rule-of-law challenges, and the transformational politics of climate action and technology are inevitable. But if it were to get out of hand, Europe would be ungovernable. That is why von der Leyen must up her game in Europe’s big politics,” he wrote.
A technique for her to assume a greater managerial function could be to delegate extra duties to her politically skilled lieutenants within the school of commissioners, whereas to date she has been seen as overly counting on a detailed group of advisors.
Von der Leyen “personally associated with herself” two guarantees that she’s going to want to handle in her speech, the inexperienced deal and constructing a political fee, argued Susi Dennison, a senior coverage fellow on the European Council on Overseas Relations, a think-tank
“Things are looking pretty rocky on them,” she added, declaring that whereas EU leaders principally agreed on the inexperienced deal, its implementation was being referred to as into query, amid rising inner concern over rising power costs.
In her speech, von der Leyen is probably going to difficulty a name to arms whereas sending a political message that the transition will likely be simply and prices will likely be truthful.
On the geopolitical entrance, von der Leyen will handle the brand new actuality that EU leaders had to wake up to through the messy US pullout from Afghanistan: the necessity for the EU to have the ability to defend its personal pursuits, because the US is more and more turning its consideration to Asia and disengaging from Europe.
Dennison expects the German fee chief to name for an EU that’s “more robust on different dimensions of sovereignty”.
“We might have ambitions for the geopolitical world, but the EU is not there yet,” Dennison stated, including that von der Leyen was seemingly to handle the significance of pulling collectively, and specializing in widespread pursuits and threats throughout the EU.
“We need a clear orientation what we need to do,” German MEP Manfred Weber, the group chief for the European Individuals’s Occasion (EPP), the political household von der Leyen belongs to, additionally informed reporters in Strasbourg on Tuesday, calling the Afghanistan withdrawal a “game changer”.
“Europe has to take over responsibility,” he stated, including that bond Der Leyen’s speech ought to embody “hopefully a wake up call”.
Von der Leyen has to bridge deep division amongst EU members when it comes to attitudes in direction of migration, fiscal coverage, or elementary values.
Whereas her fee has began out attempting a brand new, extra conciliatory tone with Poland and Hungary – two nations which have been underneath EU scrutiny for backsliding on EU values – in contrast to the fee of her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker, it has not yielded outcomes.
Lately, the fee stepped up stress and used the leverage of the EU restoration fund to put the squeeze on Warsaw and Budapest over long-standing issues over corruption and judicial independence.
The fee final week additionally requested the European Court docket of Justice for every day fines towards Warsaw for not respecting earlier courtroom orders.
John Morijn, a regulation and politics professor on the College of Groningen, stated, nonetheless, that whereas the current efforts of the fee had been welcome, “dialogue should be conditional” on Poland and Hungary displaying good religion and honest mutual cooperation of their dealings with EU establishments.
“That would be a powerful message [from von der Leyen],” he stated.