Mixed response to von der Leyen's speech

A new migration pact, reform of the WHO and WTO, stricter climate targets and a move away from the principle of unanimity: in her State of the Union address on Wednesday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a number of goals. Praiseworthy ambition or meaningless rhetoric?

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Turun Sanomat (FI) /

Finally an end to the consensus blockade

Turun Sanomat entirely approves of the partial relaxation of the unanimity principle:

“Perhaps the most important statement in the speech concerns EU decision-making processes. In many cases unanimity is required in the European Council. This often leads to weak compromises that take time to negotiate. … The President of the Commission understandably considers it necessary that decisions be reached through a qualified majority. This would simplify the work of the Commission while increasing its influence. In her speech, von der Leyen stated that the member states must be courageous and finally switch to majority decisions, at least on human rights issues and in refugee policy. Such a development proposal is entirely in line with Finland's view.”

Ta Nea (GR) /

No mincing words

Ta Nea praises von der Leyen:

“We have become accustomed to viewing EU bureaucrats in a tolerant manner and considering matters outside the nation-state as boring. ... Yet the maiden State of the Union address of European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was exceptionally political, substantial, and ambitious. Von der Leyen did not mince her words about two issues of great concern to Greece in her speech before the European Parliament. She stated that the chasm between the EU and Turkey is growing. On the refugee-migration issue and the situation in Moria she declared that the Dublin Regulation concerning migration must be replaced by a new European migration management system. Von der Leyen said that on both the Greek-Turkish and migration issues Greece and Cyprus can count on the EU's absolute solidarity.”

Népszava (HU) /

Too eager to please

Népszava would have liked to see a clearer stand against member states that violate basic EU values:

“Ursula von der Leyen is manoeuvring back and forth between the member states: the net contributors and net recipients, the countries that are willing to accept refugees and the Visegrád states and all the others who reject them. In an EU that functioned normally such a policy would be perfectly logical. However, what we need now is a Commission President who clearly shows the member states that regularly break with the EU's basic values where the limits are. Von der Leyen hasn't done that once so far; the Hungarian and Polish governments do exactly as they please.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

Don't give populists an open flank

The burden of environmental protection must be fairly distributed among the member states, De Volkskrant warns:

“A clean environment is in the interests of all Europeans. In the long run, old industrial plants, poorly insulated houses and an overheated planet are no good for anyone. What is crucial, however, is that the costs of moving to a greener economy are shared fairly - both among countries and within countries. Without a fair distribution of the burden, the issues of the climate and environment can be too easily seized upon by the populists who are waging a cultural war against Europe. The Commission is rightly trying to counter this problem with a transitional fund for poor regions.”

La Stampa (IT) /

The long-awaited turning point

La Stampa is particularly pleased by the announcement that the Dublin Regulation will be revised:

“One could be malicious and say that it took a pandemic with hundreds of thousands of deaths for Europe to decide to change its course. But it has done so. ... First of all in economic policy, and then yesterday brought a surprise that is of great help to Italy (and not only Italy). … In her State of the Union address, President Ursula von der Leyen announced that the notorious Dublin Regulation would be abolished and replaced by a new system. The decision to relieve the 'first countries of arrival' of the responsibility of dealing with such a complex (and politically insidious) phenomenon seems to be excellent news indeed.”

Contributors (RO) /

Brussels inspires hope

Von der Leyen captured the spirit of the times, European policy expert Dumitru Oprițoiu notes in Contributors:

“The European Union is caught between the consequences of the Covid-19 crisis and the opportunities that the EU economic recovery plan offers. ... The decision to finance economic reconstruction through mutualised debt is arguably as historically significant as the pandemic itself. And the Commission's proposals for a green and also digital revolution have the potential to change the lives of European citizens in spectacular ways. In her first State of the Union address, Ursula von der Leyen succeeded in inspiring hope in a recovery based on greater unity and solidarity within the Union.”

Sme (SK) /

Not an honest report

Although von der Leyen's address was clearly superior to the lacklustre speeches of her predecessor Juncker, it left several questions unanswered, writes Sme:

“For example, there was no concept for the demographics. Who is supposed to achieve these ambitious goals? Von der Leyen's speech conveyed the impression that the EU is some sort of new project for Europe's youth. The fact is, however, that Europe is an ageing continent. The last election to the European Parliament was decided by older voters. And the issue of migration cannot be adequately covered with anecdotes about a refugee who is now studying at a prestigious medical school. There are refugees in an entirely different position. ... An honest report on the state of the EU also means including images of depopulated regions where not only fast Internet connections are missing, but everything else as well.”

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (DE) /

A lack of clear positions

Von der Leyen's statements on geopolitics remain rather vague, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung comments:

“She wants to reform the World Health and World Trade Organizations. But how? She wants to stand by the Belarusian people. But what does she have to offer them? Her comments on the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline through the Baltic Sea were cryptic: Russia always follows the same pattern with its poison attacks, and no pipeline will change that. But even the supporters of the project have never claimed it would. Also on the subject of Turkey, Von der Leyen came up with nothing more than an admonishment to de-escalate the situation. The heads of government must decide next week which course to take with regard to the country. One can expect a commission with geopolitical ambitions to adopt a firm position.”

El País (ES) /

Where was the self-criticism?

The speech was neither very original nor courageous, criticises El País:

“In the mixture of allusions to multiple topics, the president at least managed to get her message across that the European Union will persevere in its pursuit of key goals, for example the Green Deal strategy. ... For all her courage, however, her weakness or lack of position on other matters was obvious. For example on the seriousness of the populist challenge in Britain. And the precarious results of European coordination in various phases of the pandemic or the nebulous response of the Commission in the migration scandal warranted at least some self-criticism and criticism. That was missing.”