Photo: © European Union 2019 - Source : EP

Environment first says new EU Commission president

Former German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen has been elected as European Commission President after winning a ballot of MEPs in Strasbourg.

Von der Leyen won the support of MEPs after presenting a bold vision for a greener Europe and calling for significant climate and environmental action over the next five years.

Jeremy Wates, EEB Secretary General welcomed von der Leyen’s election and the fact that she had “put the environment first”:

“She has made some big and welcome commitments including to a European Green Deal, a carbon border tax and a zero-pollution future – and we look forward to seeing more details.”

Before speaking at the European Parliament this morning, von der Leyen shared a 24-page document titled: ‘A Union that strives for more: My agenda for Europe’.

The von der Leyen agenda includes a number of commitments to climate action including achieving a climate neutral EU by 2050, improving the EU’s Emission Trading System and a carbon border tax.

She also promised to end unanimous decision-making on climate and energy issues – a practice that recently allowed Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Estonia to block EU action.

Alongside raised climate ambition von der Leyen promised a number of other important environmental measures, including:

  • €1trn of sustainable finance investment and turning part of the European Investment Bank into Europe’s climate bank 
  • A 2030 biodiversity strategy to stop biodiversity loss within five years
  • A new circular economy action plan that addresses textiles and construction sectors
  • A ‘zero-pollution’ target delivered through a cross-cutting strategy to protect citizens’ health from environmental degradation and pollution
  • A “farm to fork” strategy on sustainable food

While much of the content of von der Leyen’s political agenda has been welcomed by green groups, questions remain about the details of some of her proposals and the extent of her commitment to others.

Wates added: “While mentioning the need for sustainable food and biodiversity standards in agriculture policy, von der Leyen has failed to mention the need for a radical reform of the EU’s €60bn Common Agricultural Policy to reverse its highly damaging impact on nature. Von der Leyen’s failure to unequivocally commit to supporting at least 55% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 leaves her falling short of what the Parliament has already agreed and even further short of what climate science demands. She has failed to put the sustainable development goals at the heart of all the EU does.”

Von der Leyen has also promised to use the EU’s budget to make sure that countries follow EU rules, which could provide crucial in ensuring the proper implementation and enforcement of EU environmental laws.

The final result saw von der Leyen win the support of 383 members.