State of the Union: was von der Leyen convincing?

"Never before has this Parliament debated the State of the Union with war raging on European soil." With these words EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen began her speech to MEPs in Strasbourg on Wednesday. Russia has attacked the European system of values, but if it acts in unison the EU can repel this assault, she stressed. Commentators discuss whether she found the right words.

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Club Z (BG) /

Stop forgetting history

"We should have listened to the voices inside our Union - in Poland, in the Baltics, and all across Central and Eastern Europe," said von der Leyen. Club Z welcomes this late insight:

“As a German, she cannot have forgotten the Berlin Wall, and that anyone who dared to flee from East to West Germany could be executed. The Germans had only the USSR to thank for the Wall. ... Von der Leyen can also not have forgotten how the USSR signed mutual assistance pacts with Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in 1939. This was followed by the deployment of Soviet troops, extraordinary parliamentary elections in all three countries, the victory of the communist parties and the founding of the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian Soviet Republics. All this, of course, 'according to the will of the people'.”

El País (ES) /

Cooperation in turbo mode

El País sees the proposals as a second quantum leap after the pandemic towards greater cohesion in the EU:

“This is a moment of enormous acceleration in the shaping of common policies. ... Rarely have the European institutions been so in tune with the national dynamics, which for their part are on a similar wavelength as public opinion. ... Public opinion approves to a high degree (over 80 percent) with the EU's current policy towards Ukraine and with the development of a self-sufficient energy policy. ... The pandemic and the ensuing economic recession have triggered a major turnaround in EU economic policy. The reaction to Russian aggression will now require similar leaps in its ever pending foreign policy.”

Eesti Rahvusringhääling (ERR Online) (EE) /

Russia policy has changed permanently

Europe has finally overcome its naivety vis-à-vis Moscow, political scientist Keit Kasemets writes on ERR Online:

“Even the politicians, top officials and entrepreneurs of the countries of Central Europe are gradually realising that their previous policies towards Russia have failed. And this change is not just temporary because of the war, but permanent. In her speech Ursula von der Leyen admitted that Europe should have listened more to those who said that Russia would stop at nothing. We should have listened to the Russian and Belarusian opposition, the Baltic states and Poland.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Plenty of pathos, little empathy

Von der Leyen's speech failed to address people's main concerns, the Süddeutsche Zeitung criticises:

“She could have told them that the EU will do everything it can to help its citizens, just as it did during the financial crisis and the pandemic. ... But she obviously didn't want to take that chance. A brief reference to glass manufacturers who can no longer afford the gas for their ovens, half a sentence about single parents who are afraid of electricity bills, a digression about the pricing on the electricity market - that was it. On the other hand there was a lot of pathos about Ukrainian heroism. ... At any rate, von der Leyen's speech certainly didn't convey the impression that she has grasped what lies ahead for Europe and Europe's citizens. Or that she cares.”

Radio Kommersant FM (RU) /

Crises bind people

Western politicians must be effective in communicating the situation to their citizens, says Radio Kommersant FM:

“So far, no serious political complications have been detected in the Old World. There are local demonstrations, but nothing more. All governments are in office, the EU is not disintegrating. ... The key question is: is the average European willing to endure inconveniences for the sake of shared Western values? Much, if not everything, now depends on the eloquence of the European leaders and above all their ability to quickly find a way out of the crisis. Fundamentally, the Western world still has great potential - and extreme conditions are known to bind people together.”

De Standaard (BE) /

Many familiar promises

The Commission president's speech didn't hold out much hope in view of the energy crisis, De Standaard says:

“It's clearly much easier to announce measures to protect purchasing power than to actually implement them effectively. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen's speech, which had aroused major expectations, did not produce a major breakthrough. Once again, an array of mechanisms and negotiations were promised to lower the price of energy. But for the time being, interests both inside and outside the EU are still too disparate to give the impression that achieving unity is the greatest priority.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Brussels will exploit the crisis

De Telegraaf detects the will to secure more power for the EU in the speech:

“Now those in the European bubble have tasted blood. Thanks to the war in Ukraine, proposals for steps towards forming a European army are suddenly no longer taboo. The Covid crisis was used to greatly expand the scope of work in the health sector. In her annual 'throne speech', European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen dreams of even more power for Brussels and more EU. She is using her momentum: in every crisis, it is the member states that desperately beg Brussels for a European solution.”