Germany’s Von der Leyen secures powerful EU executive top job

STRASBOURG (Reuters) – Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen secured European parliamentary approval on Tuesday to become the first female European Commission president on a platform of a greener, fairer and rule-based Europe.

Elected European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech after a vote on her election at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The German conservative got the thumbs up from socialist and liberal lawmakers which, together with the endorsement by her fellow conservatives, gives her a stronger mandate to tackle issues such as climate change, trade and maintaining democracy in the European Union.

Rejection by the EU legislature would have been a painful blow for a bloc beset by challenges ranging from trade to Brexit and erosion of democratic norms, and a headache for EU leaders who would have had to come up with another candidate in a month.

As head of the EU executive, von der Leyen will be in charge of trade negotiations, economic and climate policy for 500 million Europeans and antitrust rulings involving powerful tech giants.

She secured 383 votes to 327 against, said David Sassoli, speaker of the assembly. The threshold was 374.

With 52% support, von der Leyen’s victory margin was in line with recent trends. Current Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker received 56% while his predecessor Jose Manuel Barroso had 52% for his second mandate and 56% for his first term.

“The trust you placed in me is confidence you placed in Europe. Your confidence in a united and strong Europe, from east to west, from south to north,” said the German conservative, who earlier this week resigned as Berlin’s defence minister. “It’s a big responsibility and my work starts now.”

“Let us work together constructively because the endeavour is a united and strong Europe,” added von der Leyen, who will take up her new role on November 1.

The German politician, who has said she is open to giving more time to Britain to negotiate its exit from the bloc, said she would work “in a constructive way” with any new British prime minister.

She declined to say whether she would rather see the favourite Boris Johnson or current foreign minister Jeremy Hunt become the new British leader.

UNCONVINCED GREENS

Greens lawmakers, who voted against von der Leyen, questioned her ability to carry out her promises. Some of the plans would need backing from EU countries that typically are wary of ceding more powers to the EU executive.

“Good intent alone is not enough. We were elected on an agenda for change and we did not hear enough on our key demands, namely on concrete proposals to avert climate breakdown,” Greens party leader Ska Keller said.

The European United Left-Nordic Green Left was scathing.

“We will resist von der Leyen’s status quo policies that have entrenched inequality and fuelled the far right,” its president Martin Schirdewan said.

The liberal group Renew Europe and the Socialists and Democrats Group had earlier announced support for the 60-year-old Von der Leyen regardless of the EU lawmakers’ decision.

Earlier on Tuesday, she set out her climate goals, going further than current targets, in a bid to convince both socialists and liberals. She had already pledged the ambitious targets in letters to the two groups the previous day.

Her plans include making Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world by 2050, launch a Green Deal for Europe in her first 100 days in office, turn parts of the European Investment Bank into a Climate Bank and introduce a Carbon Border Tax.

Slideshow (9 Images)

Von der Leyen promised to defend the rule of law, took aim at U.S. tech giants’ low tax bill in Europe and said she would update EU-wide norms for tackling the migrant issue.

In her biggest cross-party promise, von der Leyen offered to help allow the EU parliament the right to propose new legislation – currently the Commission’s prerogative.

Additional reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel, Philip Blenkinsop and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels and Alexandra Regida and Peter Maushagen in Strasbourg; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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