New EU commission: What challenges await von der Leyen?

Brussels (dpa) – Ursula von der Leyen took over at the helm of the European Commission on Sunday. She has ambitious plans for her term, but decision-making in the European Union is notoriously slow and forging consensus can be painstaking.

Her goal of a totally gender-balanced EU executive top team already fell by the wayside in the tussle between EU lawmakers and member states to appoint European commissioners.

But what other pitfalls lie ahead for the German politician’s plans for the next five years?

“European Green Deal”

Von der Leyen wants to set out a “European Green Deal” within her first 100 days in office, which would enshrine in EU law a goal to make the European Union climate-neutral by 2050.

The timeline is tight, but finding a policy package that both the more environmentally ambitious European Parliament and the more conservative EU member states can agree on will be even tougher.

To get sceptical countries like the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary and Poland on board, von der Leyen should think outside the box, according to the deputy director of the German Marshall Fund think tank in Brussels.

“Cities, regions, the private sector, NGOs and international organizations” all have a role to play, Corinna Horst told dpa.

New Pact On Migration

The outgoing commission’s efforts to overhaul the EU’s strained migration and asylum system have long been stuck in a ditch, with member states squabbling over distribution quotas and where to send people disembarking from boats on the Mediterranean Sea.

Von der Leyen has promised “strong borders and a fresh start on migration,” but once again it all depends on convincing member states – especially those that refuse to take in more migrants.

As with her environmental goals, von der Leyen may have to get creative to find solutions, Horst believes, working with non-state actors, EU host communities or third countries, for example.

Relations With Parliament

Von der Leyen was plucked out of German politics and thrust into the commission top job by EU leaders after they vetoed the candidates put forward by the European Parliament. She acknowledged at the time that this didn’t get her off on the right foot with EU lawmakers.

Moreover, EU lawmakers “still need to work out how they will work together, considering that the majority of members are new and the parliament is politically way more fragmented than ever before” following May’s elections, Horst said.

Geopolitical Europe

A former defence minister, von der Leyen has big ambitions to strengthen Europe’s strategic autonomy in times when multilateralism is being called into question.

But the driving force for policy shifts in the EU often comes from cooperation between Paris and Berlin, says Sophie Pornschlegel, an expert from the Brussels-based European Policy Centre. This relationship has been under strain in recent times.

But thanks to von der Leyen’s good relationship with both German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, there is a chance of progress on important policy issues, Pornschlegel suggests.

 

New European Commission