Germany’s defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, the top candidate to become the next president of the European Commission promised on Tuesday a so-called “green deal” to be launched during the 100 first days of her presidency.
“Our most pressing challenge is keeping our planet healthy,” von der Leyen said, underlining the “greatest responsibility and opportunity of our time,” the 60-year-old politician said while adding that she wants Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050.
To become the first woman to hold the presidency of the European Union executive, von der Leyen needs to get an absolute majority of at least 374 votes by Tuesday evening in the European Parliament. To reach that total, she needs the support of left-of-centre members in order for the EU not to step in unmapped waters if the European Parliament rejects the candidate.
Pushing forward French President Emmanuel Macron’s agenda to prioritise the climate crisis and the Paris climate accord, von der Leyen said she would propose a law during her first 100 days in office that would deepen the 2030 emissions-cut target to up to 55% and set a goal to zero for greenhouse gases by 2050 while also proposing a sustainable investment plan for Europe and turn parts of the European Investment Bank into a climate bank that will assist with covering the transition costs and “unlock 1 trillion in investments over the next decade,” she added. while appealing to the divided Socialists and Democrats (S&D) by the term “change” during her speech, “This means change. All of us and every sector will have to contribute, from aviation to maritime transport, to the way each and every one of us travels and lives. Emissions must have a price that changes our behaviour.”
Von der Leyen also brought forward a Carbon Tax plan to protect the bloc’s’ industry competitiveness during the green transition to avoid the inevitable relocation of companies to regions with less stringent climate policies.
Putting forward a green deal during her first three-plus months in office is also aimed at raising hopes for gaining the unlikely last-minute support of the Greens/European Free Alliance, who said von der Leyen’s rhetoric “was strong”, but that her proposals remain very vague.
“We think you are moving in the right direction,” Iratxe Garcia, head of the Socialist Group in the EU Parliament, said after von der Leyen’s speech. Garcia has been supportive of von der Leyen’s candidacy from the beginning and has backed her climate proposal as it is also part of a package put forward by Spain’s Socialist prime minister, Pedro Sanchez.
Her support falls into line with the backing that von der Leyen has received from Spanish, Portuguese, and Romanian socialists, all of whom are outliers with the rest of the Socialist group which has been quite critical of her candidacy during the week’s hearings in Brussels.
Von der Leyen currently has the support of 182 Christian Democrat MEPs, 108 liberal MEPs from Renew Europe. This consolidation of the centrist vote has allowed her to focus on the 153 Socialist MEPs that she needs to gain enough support for her candidacy.
Questions remain, however, about several of the pledges that she put forward on Monday, including her policies concerning migration, an area where some S&D MEPs believe she has not gone far enough to earn their support.