Ursula von der Leyen’s Subtle Campaign Trail: State of the European Union Address

Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, recently delivered a State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech that left many speculating about her intentions for the upcoming election. While von der Leyen remains tight-lipped about whether she plans to seek reelection, her SOTEU address bore a striking resemblance to a political campaign launch, strategically courting various political groups for support without explicitly announcing her candidacy.

Campaign-like Gestures

In a carefully calculated and cautious speech, von der Leyen skillfully distributed political favors to groups she would need to win support from in her bid for a second term. One notable outreach was to the European conservatives, a critical demographic she must appease within her own political family, the European People’s Party (EPP).

While the ultimate decision for the next Commission president will be made by European heads of state and government in the summer, von der Leyen cannot overlook securing support from the EPP, the largest political group in the European Parliament. She made a clear nod to conservatives who have expressed concerns about the Commission’s Green Deal environmental program, assuring them that European industry would continue to receive support during the transition.

Navigating the Political Landscape

Von der Leyen’s address also included conciliatory remarks directed at the EPP chief, Manfred Weber, who has been critical of Brussels’ environmental policies and has championed European farmers. Switching to German, she expressed her appreciation for farmers, emphasizing her belief in the compatibility of agriculture and environmental protection. This overture to Europe’s conservatives did not go unnoticed and was commended by the EPP’s secretary general, Thanasis Bakolas.

However, not all praise was effusive, as Weber pushed for a “European defense union,” a topic not addressed by von der Leyen. Nevertheless, he acknowledged her approach to enlargement, expressing support for her concept concerning Western Balkan countries, Ukraine, and Moldova.

Strategic Gift-Giving

Von der Leyen’s speech extended beyond the conservative camp, as she sought to garner support from other significant political groups. Notably, she addressed French President Emmanuel Macron’s liberal Renew Europe group, pledging to launch an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese electric vehicles—an issue of particular interest to Paris. She assured that Europe remained open to competition but not a race to the bottom.

For the Socialists and Democrats, von der Leyen reaffirmed her commitment to the main principles of the Green Deal and reforming the legal framework for migration into the European Union.

Unspoken Challenges

One crucial aspect of von der Leyen’s address was what she chose not to mention. She remained silent on the contentious issue of rule-of-law within the European Union, particularly regarding Hungary and Poland’s conflicts with European judges. This omission might be a calculated move to avoid alienating countries whose support she may require to secure a second term.

FAQs Section

What was the topic of Ursula von der Leyen’s speech in Strasbourg?

Ursula von der Leyen’s speech in Strasbourg was her State of the European Union (SOTEU) speech.

Did Ursula von der Leyen announce her plans for reelection in her speech?

No, she did not announce her plans for reelection in her speech.

Which political group in the European Parliament is likely to remain the biggest after the election in June?

The European People’s Party (EPP) is likely to remain the biggest political group in the European Parliament after the election in June.

What outreach did Ursula von der Leyen make to European conservatives in her speech?

Ursula von der Leyen offered support for European industry throughout the transition of the European Green Deal, particularly addressing concerns about the combustion engine ban by 2035.

Who is Manfred Weber, and what was Ursula von der Leyen’s message to him?

Manfred Weber is the chief of the European People’s Party (EPP), and Ursula von der Leyen expressed appreciation for farmers and the compatibility of agriculture and natural world protection in her speech.

How did Thanasis Bakolas, the secretary general of the EPP, react to Ursula von der Leyen’s speech?

Thanasis Bakolas praised Ursula von der Leyen’s speech as a testament to the leadership, determination, pragmatism, effectiveness, and resolve of the EPP in the EU institutions and across Europe.

What did Manfred Weber emphasize in his reaction to Ursula von der Leyen’s speech?

Manfred Weber emphasized the need to create a “European defense union,” a topic not mentioned by von der Leyen, and expressed support for her approach to enlargement.

Which other political groups did Ursula von der Leyen target in her speech for potential support in her reelection bid?

Ursula von der Leyen targeted French President Emmanuel Macron’s liberal Renew Europe group and the Socialists and Democrats of Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

What announcement did Ursula von der Leyen make regarding imported Chinese electric vehicles?

Ursula von der Leyen announced that the Commission is launching an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China.

What did Ursula von der Leyen pledge regarding the Green Deal and migration in the European Union?

Ursula von der Leyen pledged to stick by the main pillars of the Green Deal and reform the legal framework for migration into the European Union.

What issue did Ursula von der Leyen avoid mentioning in her speech, and why?

Ursula von der Leyen avoided mentioning the issue of rule-of-law inside the Union, particularly concerning Hungary and Poland, possibly to avoid criticism from these countries whose support she’ll need in Council for her reelection.

How did diplomats describe Ursula von der Leyen’s approach in her State of the European Union speech?

Diplomats described Ursula von der Leyen’s approach as “playing it safe” in her final State of the European Union speech, noting that it’s an election year.

What did a veteran conservative observer conclude about Ursula von der Leyen’s speech?

A veteran conservative observer concluded that Ursula von der Leyen’s speech was like a campaign speech and believed that she was already on the campaign trail, even though she hadn’t publicly declared her intentions.

In summary, Ursula von der Leyen’s SOTEU speech left political observers with a distinct impression that she is already on the campaign trail, even if she refrains from publicly declaring her intentions. As the election year unfolds, her actions and words will be closely scrutinized, shaping the future of European politics.

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