by N. Peter Kramer
On September 16, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen held her first ‘State of the Union’ before the European Parliament in Brussels. ‘Europe has a common destiny’ , she said reconfirming existing wishes and launching a number of new ones. The thread through her lengthy speech was: more EU integration is needed and therefore the Commission needs more power and more money. The old stale song: more, more, more! Of course, the European Parliament was very enthusiastic and rewarded the commission president with a thunderous applause. In many EU capitals, on the other hand, the reaction to Von der Leyen’s sermon was no more than a shrug.
Von der Leyen put forward a plan to establish a European Health Care Union. But health care was and still is a policy area for the member states themselves. Who believes they will give the commission the authority to take the lead? Plus it would bring hundreds more EU bureaucrats to Brussels. The problem with bureaucracy is just that by its nature many do not have the slightest idea of reality at member state level nor any notion or insight into historical and long existing differences between the countries. A recent example. someone at the commission headquarters, the Berlaymont, stated that one of the most famous and historical buildings in the world, the Aya Sophia, is situated in Cyprus! Since the year 532 it has been found in Istanbul…
Von der Leyen issued a plea for qualified-majority voting on foreign policy. Divisions have long been blocking a clear EU foreign policy. ‘Credibility is at stake’, europhiles are crying. But with 27 countries around the table, there are different analyses of problems, conflicting national interests and different external influences. The past weeks we have seen a lack of unity in four foreign policy challenges: Belarus, Turkey, Russia and China. Smaller member states especially fear that qualified-majority voting for foreign policies will give the chance to bigger EU players (read: Germany and France) to overrule them and ignore their problems.
Another remarkable passage in the State of the Union was Von der Leyen’s appeal on the EP to fight for more funding and remedy the cuts the European Council made in the EU budget 2021-2027 (Multi-annual Financial Framework, MFF) in June, after a 4-day long summit. Her message did not fall on deaf ears, again applause for Von der Leyen by the MEPs. In the meantime, the Council and the parliament are continuing to disagree on whether to increase the MFF. It is complicating attempts to reach a quick agreement on the exorbitant €750 billion recovery fund called Next Generation EU, to overcome the crisis inflicted by COVID-19.
Anyhow, changing the rules is the prerogative of the member states... unanimously!