By Jorge Valero
(EurActiv) — Putting carbon neutrality into law during first 100 days, a new ‘Just Transition Fund’ or the nomination of two executive vice-presidents are some of the concessions listed by European Commission President nominee Ursula von der Leyen, according to the letters seen by EURACTIV.
The letters responded to demands made by the Socialists and Liberal groups in exchange for their support for her candidacy to become Commission chief. The vote of the European Parliament is scheduled for Tuesday (16 July) at 6pm.
Von der Leyen told the political families that she has prepared detailed political guidelines for the next Commission, covering a wide range of policies. Von der Leyen will send them on Tuesday morning to the groups and will present them in the plenary session ahead of the vote.
Despite the strong similarities between the letters sent to the S&D and Renew Europe, there are small differences in content, depending on the groups’s primary concerns.
In her letter to RE, von der Leyen said that she will create two executive vice-presidents. The first vice-president will replace her in her absence.
This is the formula designed to ensure that Frans Timmermans, agreed by EU leaders to become first vice-president, and Margrethe Vestager, RE’s lead candidate, are on equal footing as the Liberals had requested.
The size of their cabinets will reflect their double function, and will be comparable to the Foreign Affairs High Representative’s team.
Von der Leyen also said that in her college of commissioners she will insist on “more inclusive leadership”. She wants to make the EU executive “more agile and flexible”, as well as more transparent.
During her first 100 days, the German Defence Minister prioritised two initiatives: legislation for a coordinated European approach on the human and ethical implications of artificial intelligence and to put into law achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.
In order to achieve this goal, she intends to put forward a plan towards a reduction of 55% of CO2 emissions by 2030, based on a social, economic and environmental impact assessment that “ensures a level playing field” because not all the regions and member states share the same starting point.
In order to facilitate the transition, she proposes a new ‘Just Transition Fund’ in which public money will be complemented by private funds, channelled through a new ‘Sustainable Europe Investment Plan’ and by turning parts of the European Investment Bank into a climate bank, as suggested by French President Emmanuel Macron.
As part of the toolbox, she also wants to introduce a carbon border tax and to extend the Emission Trading System.
More social Europe
The Commission nominee has also promised to “use the full flexibility within the Stability and Growh Pact, for a more growth friendly fiscal stance in the euro area while safeguarding fiscal responsibility”.
As part of the deepening of the economic and monetary union, her flagship proposal is a European Unemployment Benefit Reinsurance Scheme. “This will protect our citizens and reduce the pressure on member states’s finances during external shocks,” von der Leyen said in the letters.
This idea, backed by a group including France, Germany and Spain, is still opposed by The Netherlands and other member states.
Von der Leyen also spelled out concrete proposals for the full implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights. These include a “legal instrument to ensure that every worker in our Union has a fair minimum wage that allows them a decent living.”
The candidate also wants to set up a European Child Guarantee, to guarantee that every child at risk of social exclusion has access to basic rights. Von der Leyen also wants to turn the existing Youth Guarantee into a permanent instrument, to improve the conditions for platform workers and to revitalise European anti-discrimination directive.
Von der Leyen, who was in charge for Family Affairs before becoming Defence minister in Germany, has vowed to make equality “one of the major priorities of my Commission.”
For that reason, she will propose an EU gender equality strategy, including actions to introduce binding pay transparency measures.
The candidate stressed the need to set quotas for gender balance on company boards, and repeated her pledge to achieve a fully gender equal college.
Rule of law
The question of rule of law will be particularly sensitive during her mandate, given that she has been supported by Hungary and Poland, both of whom are subject to disciplinary actions for breaching it.
The respect of rule of law is “central to my vision for a Union of equality and social fairness,” von der Leyen wrote in the letters.
“There can be no compromise when it comes to our core values,” the candiate stressed.
She promised to make full use of the European toolbox, and will support an additional ‘comprehensive European Rule of Law Mechanism’, including objective annual reporting among all member states. “None of us is perfect on this issue,” von der Leyen wrote.
The candidate also told MEPs that she will ensure a greater role for the European Parliament in the rule of law mechanism. Her goal is to bring “more transparency” and also “tighter enforcement” to the system.
Von der Leyen wants a “fresh start” on migration, and wants a new pact on migration and asylum, including the relaunch of the Dublin reform, on which member states have been deadlocked for several years.
“We need a new way of burden sharing […] We can only have strong external borders if we give enough support to member states who face the most pressure because of where they are on the map,” her letter reads.
As part of this goal, she intends to achieve the number of 10,000 European border guards by 2024.
In regards to trade, von der Leyen’s two main promises are to include a sustainable development chapter in every trade deal concluded during her mandate and to appoint a Chief Trade Enforcement officer to improve compliance and enforcement of EU’s trade agreements.
The letters also shed more light on the conference on the ‘Future of Europe’ she mentioned during her meetings with the groups.
It will start in 2020, and will run for two years. The conference would bring together citizens and institutions as equal partners, with clear scope and objectives agreed by the three EU institutions, with the conference’s conclusions to result in legislative actions and other initiatives, including the possibility of treaty change.
The candidate repeated that she supports a right of initiative for the Parliament. Therefore if a majority of MEPs adopts a resolution, she has committed to respond with a draft legislative act.
Von der Leyen wants legislative proposals and other measures by the summer of 2020 to improve the spitzenkandidaten system -“to make it more visible to the wider electorate”- and on the transitional lists.
In regards to the UK’s departure from the EU, von der Leyen said that if elected, she is ready to pave the way for an “ambitious and strategic partnership” with London, and she would support a further extension beyond 31 October if good reasons are provided.
The letters sent to the two groups also reaffirmed the the European perspective of Western Balkans, including her support for opening negotiations with Albania and North Macedonia.
Von der Leyen also wishes to move away from unanimity to qualified majority voting on climate, energy, social and taxation, and foreign affairs, although this would require treaty change.