A new European commission, to be led by former German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, was approved by a vote in the European parliament on Wednesday. The commission, which will be in place the next five years, was approved by 461 MEPs, with 157 voting against it and 89 abstentions. Von der Leyen and her team of 26 commissioners – who were themselves later approved by the same majority – will take office on Sunday 1 December.
“My message is simple: Let’s get to work,” von der Leyen said at the the European parliament in Strasbourg.
In her speech, she promoted her key goals, including a new, stronger role for Europe in the world and ambitious action on the climate crisis. Through its proposed Green New Deal, the EU aims to accelerate the reduction of CO2 emissions: Instead of the current 40 percent, it aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 55 percent by 2030. By 2050, the EU should be climate-neutral in order to meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement.
Another measure that forms part of the Green New Deal is a carbon tariff on companies that operate in the European Union. The new commission also plans to implement a Fair Transition Fund to answer the demands for greater support from some Eastern countries to make the conversion to clean energy from fossil fuels.
Turning to Brexit, another issue that will occupy the briefs of the new Commissioners from day one, von der Leyen told the chamber: “We all know that one member of our family intends to leave our Union.”
When Brexit Party MEPs began applauding, she replied: “A vast majority of this house seems to be happy about the fact that a very, very small group in this house will not be able to clap as loud any more.”
After applause from other MEPs she added: “I have made no secret that I will always be a Remainer.” She said that the bond between the EU and UK people is “unbreakable.”
The leader of the European People’s Party in the Parliament Manfred Weber praised the priorities of the new Commission President, highlighting the fact that more women than ever will be represented on the governing body: “A key achievement is better representation of the sexes.”
The future Commission will have 27 commissioners – the United Kingdom refused to present a candidate – 12 women, including the president, and 15 men.
The Socialist Group leader Iratxe García Pérez also welcomed the commission’s prioritisation of climate action but said that Europe needed more than just a green agenda.
“We need a social soul,” she said.
Renew Group leader Dacian Ciolos said Europe must prepare for the big challenges. “I demand three things: vision, passion and ambition.”
Striking a different note, the Greens, who voted against von der Leyen’s presidency, expressed their fear that the proposed climate measures don’t go far enough to address the crisis.
“Green headlines are just not enough. Without a deep reform of the agriculture policy and the trade agenda, any climate policy must remain half-hearted, and we just don’t have the time for that,” said the co-president of the Greens Ska Keller.