On 27th November 2019, MEPs confirmed the Commission under the leadership of Ursula von der Leyen with a clear majority. Hence, nothing is in the way of the official inauguration on 1st December. In her speech prior to the vote in Strasbourg, President Ursula von der Leyen again outlined her position on structure and substantive priorities of the Commission.
Priorities of the von der Leyen-Commission 2019-2024
As already outlined in the Mission Letters and announced at her own election in July, the new Von der Leyen-Commission, will above all concentrate on the issues of climate change and digitalisation. These priorities were also once again made clear in Von der Leyen’s speech prior to the vote. However, it remains to be seen whether the also announced social compatibility will add up to more than just empty words. After all, von der Leyen had made some concessions during the last months to win over the Social Democrats. The also elected Employment Commissioner, Nicolas Schmit had shown great ambition during his hearing in respect of driving forward the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Yet, not only the AK expects even more efforts being made to continue build Europe’s social structure.
From the AK’s point of view, the social aspect has to be more dominant also regarding the announced Green Deal. What is needed is a just transition, which lets all people actively participate. Only then it can be ensured that climate neutrality by 2050 and the more radical reduction of CO2 emissions do not result in massive disadvantages for parts of the European population. This has been announced by Von der Leyen, but it will depend on the concrete formulations to ensure that this target will indeed be achieved.
In her speech, Von der Leyen also devoted some time to talk about the future European migration policy. In order to bridge the gap between the two opposing opinions within the EU, she tried to make concessions to both sides. She wants to considerably expand border controls and ensure that those, who have no right to remain in the EU, will be returned to their countries of origin. At the same time, those, who have a right to remain, should be better integrated and the EU considered a safe haven for people in need. Here, she slightly deviated from the position for which she had been severely criticised. Prior to her speech she had - under pressure by the Social Democrats already changed the title of the Commissioner responsible: his dossier is no longer called “Protection” but “Promotion” of European values.
The perspective of the EU Parliament
Already in the run-up there had been discussions and demands in particular by the Social Democrats and the Conservative EPP. The latter’s leader Manfred Weber had made some demands on the new Commission by his op-ed. These included above all the strengthening of the EU Parliament by a right of initiative and a transparent system for the election of the next Commission President.
There was also criticism on the day of the meeting, in particular by right factions. However, the Greens also announced in the meeting that they would abstain from their vote for the Commission. From their point of view, the plans of the Green Deal were currently only headlines. During the last days, von der Leyen had been able to make some concessions in particular to the Social Democrats. Among them the expansion of the Employment Commissioner’s portfolio and the competence of the Social Democrat Economic Affairs Commissioner regarding the implementation of the UN’s sustainability goals. This led in the meeting on 28th November to Social Democrats, as well as Conservatives and Liberals (Renew) announcing that they would support the proposed Commissioners. However, the Social Democrats added that they expected the soon implementation of their demands.
Finally, 707 of 751 MEPs cast their vote. 461 approved of the proposal whilst 157 MEPs voted against; 89 abstained. As a result, all Commissioners were officially and with a clear majority approved. Hence, compared to her own vote, with her team and her programme priorities, von der Leyen had been able to win over significantly more MEPs. This means that the Commission can start its work on 1st December.
Waiting for concrete plans
In the Mission Letters the President had already imposed strict deadlines of 100 days for some issues, whereby clear priority was given to the Green Deal under the auspices of the 1st Vice President and Social Democrat Frans Timmermans. The official work programme of the new Commission, which shall be presented in the coming weeks, is now awaited with great anticipation.