European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen, whose team of commissioners received approval in the European Parliament on Wednesday, has vowed that the European Union will play a growing leadership role on the world stage.
She won Wednesday’s vote in Strasbourg by 461 votes in favor to 157 against, with 89 abstentions, and will formally take over from her predecessor Jean-Claude Juncker on Dec 1.
The 61-year-old former German defense minister said that over the next five years, the EU will embark on a transformation that will touch every part of its society and economy. “And we will do it because it is the right thing to do. Not because it will be easy,” she told MEPs.
Without elaborating, she added “this is an unsettled world, where too many powers only speak the language of confrontation and unilateralism … the world needs our leadership more than ever, to keep engaging with the world as a responsible power. To be a force for peace and for positive change.”
Von der Leyen said the organization must show its partners at the United Nations that they can rely on the EU as a champion of multilateralism, and that it will invest in alliances and coalitions to advance its values.
“We’ll promote and protect Europe’s interests through open and fair trade. We’ll strengthen our partners through cooperation, because strong partners make Europe strong too,” she said.
Shifting between German, French and English during her speeches on Wednesday, von der Leyen said her commission will not be afraid to speak the language of confidence and assertiveness. “But we will do it our way, the European way.
“If there is one area where the world needs our leadership, it is on protecting our climate. This is an existential issue for Europe, and for the world,” she said. The European Parliament will vote on Thursday to declare a climate emergency.
She described the European Green Deal as EU’s new growth strategy, helping EU cut emissions while creating jobs.
“From China to Canada, through to California, others are working with us on their own Emissions Trading Systems,” she said, adding that the new Trade Commissioner, Ireland’s Phil Hogan, will ensure that the EU’s future trade agreements will include a chapter on sustainable development.
She also talked at length about how the EU should advance its digitization.
“To grasp the opportunities and to address the dangers that are out there, we must be able to strike a smart balance where the market cannot. We must protect our European wellbeing and our European values,” she said.
As the first woman to take up the job, she said every member of her college will have a gender-balanced cabinet for the very first time. “And by the end of our mandate, we will have gender equality at all levels of management, for the very first time,” she added.