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For a politician who won’t say whether she plans to run for office, Ursula von der Leyen looks like a lot of a candidate.
Her State of the European Union Her speech, delivered Wednesday morning in Strasbourg, was as close to a campaign launch as you could get, without even revealing a “Make Europe Great Again” baseball cap – right down to the way she handed out political gifts to each group who would have a say. his re-election.
Take it rather blatant awareness to European conservatives.
Even though the choice of the next Commission president will ultimately be made by European heads of state and government next summer, von der Leyen still needs to secure the support of his own political family, the European People’s Party ( PPE).
It is the largest political group in the European Parliament and is it is likely that it will remain so after the June elections, despite heavy losses since 2019.
Von der Leyen did not disappoint his brothers.
Throwing away red meat to preservatives that have been lead a guerrilla war In Parliament against the Commission’s environmental agenda, von der Leyen said: “As we enter the next phase of the European Green Deal, one thing will never change: we will continue to support European industry throughout this transition . »
In other words: Don’t worry, conservative friends. Even if Brussels says it wants to ban the combustion engine by 2035, I will find a way to keep your car manufacturers and heavy industry in business.
The Commission chief also had some choice words for EPP leader Manfred Weber, the Bavarian politician who has become a major headache for von der Leyen since he began attacking politics environmental protection of Brussels and to defend European farmers.
Switching to German, von der Leyen said: “I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to our farmers. I am and remain convinced that agriculture and nature protection can go hand in hand.”
The opening made to European conservatives has not gone unnoticed. Thanasis Bakolas, Secretary General of the EPP, praised his speech in a tweet as a “testimony to the leadership, determination, pragmatism, effectiveness and determination of the @PPE within the European institutions and across Europe”.
Reacting from Parliament, Weber was a little less expansive, emphasizing what he says is the need to create a “European defense union” – a subject that was not mentioned by von der Leyen. But he managed to garner some praise for his approach to enlargement: “Yes, Ursula, the enlargement process is essential and we support your vision towards the Western Balkans, Ukraine and Moldova,” he said. he declares.
The Commission chief had also wrapped gifts for the two other major political groups whose support she would need to be re-elected: French President Emmanuel Macron’s liberal Renew Europe group and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists and Democrats.
The biggest problem was Macron’s. As POLITICO first reported, Paris has been pushing for the Commission to open an anti-subsidy investigation against imported Chinese electric vehicles. Other countries have greeted Paris’ pressure with skepticism.
But von der Leyen – who owes his current position largely to Macron – put aside their concerns and said: “I can announce today that the Commission is launching an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles from China . Europe is open to competition. Not for a race to the bottom.
This move has been less successful for socialists, although some will find comfort in von der Leyen’s promise to stick to the main pillars of the Green Deal and reform the legal framework for migration to the European Union.
And then there is the important question of what von der Leyen did not say, in particular on the thorny subject of the rule of law within the Union. Brussels is engaged in a battle of wills and lawyers with the right-wing populist governments of Hungary and Poland, both of which have repeatedly and openly defied the authority of European judges.
But von der Leyen failed to mention the name of either country during the rule of law sections of his speech. This could be due to temporary memory loss – or a simple calculation that she would be better off avoiding a viral video clip of her criticizing two countries whose support in the Council she will need to win a second term at the Berlaymont.
Three diplomats noted that von der Leyen had “played it safe” in his latest European Union state.
One added laconically: “After all, it’s an election year. »
One veteran conservative who watched the speech came away with the sense that von der Leyen wasn’t just considering re-election. She was already on the electoral campaign trail.
“It was ultimately a campaign speech,” said Dara Murphy, former EPP campaign manager and now senior advisor at Rasmussen Global. “There is now no doubt” that she will run, even if, he added, “she will not declare anything publicly.”
Sarah Wheaton and Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting.