New EC Chief Ursula von der Leyen: A Disappointment Already or the First to Make Sense?
The next President of the European Commission could outplay the unpleasant Eastern European and Italian leaders who voted her into office. And she really should.
Ursula von der Leyen, Germany’s former Defense Minister, a career politician, and a mother of seven, has recently been confirmed as the next President of the European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, the only supranational government of the only supranational union of their kinds.
Her surprising election, or selection, may or may not be deemed discredited by the backstage haggling of the state leaders of EU member states.
Or by the very narrow majority in the European Parliament with which she was confirmed as the next President of the European Commission: 383 votes in favor, with 374 needed (out of a total of 747 MEPs).
Why the EU state leaders of 2019, who make up the top-level European Council by default, thought it was a good idea to pick that candidate the way they did it will probably remain a thorny issue in European history.
But Ursula von der Leyen’s election as head of the EC is now a done deal, and she could be as good an EC President as any.
If Von der Leyen’s first media interview as European Commission President-elect is any indication… she could prove to be either.
Either a disappointment from the start, or the first chief of the EU executive to finally make sense.
Of the most important of issues and challenges facing the EU: namely, the further integration of Eastern Europe, the Eastern European former communist member states which already have been EU members for a while. To remind of that, I just dedicated an entire additional essay as to why the “Eastern Europe Question” matters for the EU and Western Europe more than anything else.
These uncertainties and doubts projected from Ursula von der Leyen’s first interview are a direct reflection of the intricacies of her election: against the backdrop of a declining plurality for the largest mainstream political party families as a result of the 2019 EU elections and the lack of a clear-cut consensus among the leaders of the largest EU member states, with the crucial support of some nasty state leaders from Eastern Europe who defy Western-style political correctness to utter certain truths about the Union but only to use them to mask or justify their abuses.
Talk about a complex way of getting elected to one of the most important jobs in the entire world, and a heritage of backstage dealings that could sink your presidency just by itself.
The new EC President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s first interview came out of a meeting in Berlin with journalists from a consortium of five European newspapers: La Vanguardia in Spain, La Stampa in Italy, Le Monde in France, Sueddeutsche Zeitung in Germany, and The Guardian in the UK.
For some reason, papers from the Eastern European part of the EU seem not to have been featured – and if the organizers were going for the largest EU member states (whether that’s fair or not), they still could have invited representatives from Poland and Romania, the sixth and the seventh largest EU member states, to be the fifth and the sixth largest once if Boris Johnson sees Brexit through.
The most unpleasant or even shocking part of the interview, which has given some commentators grounds to declare that Ursula von der Leyen is already a disappointment as a future chief of the European Commission, is this sentence:
“We must all learn that full rule of law is always our goal, but nobody’s perfect.”
It is cited in English here and here, through for some reason not in the article of the English-language newspaper present at the interview, The Guardian.
The sentence refers to Poland and Hungary, whose ruling elites personified by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Poland’s ruling conservative party PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
The Eastern European gentlemen in question have been cracking down on the rule of law in their own countries as they see fit while using some key and very painful issues for the EU such as the influx of migrants and the failures of the Brussels bureaucracy in order to lash out against the Union and thus divert attention from or simply justify their abuses of power.
Is Ursula von der Leyen justifying the rule of law crackdown of the leaders of Poland and Hungary? Because they helped her get elected, and maybe even put forth her candidacy, according to some reports.
If so, that is appalling. Regardless of whatever support she may have received, as EC chief Von der Leyen is obliged to upheld the rule of law, first and foremost.
“Nobody is perfect” is basically the same answer I got about a year ago by the oligarchy-controlled owners of a formerly free Bulgarian online media after their censored by deleting entirely three of my articles in which I was exposing the flawed power justification of the Bulgarian oligarchy (which I then put into a book on a book on the topic – they can’t ban me from that, at least for the time being…).
If Von Der Leyen is going to keep repaying an “election support debt” to Orban and Kaczynski for the duration of her five-year term that would be horrible news for the holy principles the European Union was built upon.
Consider the following quote from The Guardian’s article on her interview:
“Critics say the vote has left her at the mercy of nationalists and populists in Poland and Italy who supported her candidacy.”
If that is the case, Ursula von der Leyen is going to be repaying that support debt, she is already failing miserably on the most important of issues for the EU – namely, continuing East-West integration in order to achieve a supranational entity that of relatively equal economic well-being, opportunities, freedom, human rights, rule of law, quality of life, and a common identity – spanning from the North Sea to the Black Sea.
That way Von der Leyen would also betray the overarching trust of the enlightened part of the Eastern European societies in the EU elite in Brussels to help them overthrow the yoke of their own corrupt post-communist elites.
In her first interview, the new EC chief also made another highly worrying statement with respect to the post-accession monitoring of Bulgaria and Romania, the two poorest and arguably most corrupt EU member states:
“The German politician proposes a regular monitoring process for every member state, to ‘avoid giving the impression that part of Europe fundamentally regards the other critically’.”
That would be a horrible idea, and another catastrophic kowtowing to the corrupt ruling oligarchies in Eastern Europe.
There is no need to avoid that impression because it is correct. And it is correct because the criticism is more than justified!
That impression would be deemed wrong only among certain criminal Eastern European post-communist “businessmen” and corrupt top-level officials. What is this proposal – taking “political correctness” to the next level, so as not to offend somebody who might be a corrupt criminal?
Bulgaria and Romania must unconditionally remain under the so called Cooperation and Verification Mechanism for as long as they are ruled by murky post-communist oligarchies. Period. The so called CVM is toothless as it is but it still shouldn’t be removed altogether.
If Von der Leyen wants to add on top of that a different monitoring mechanism for all EU member states, thus swelling further the Brussels bureaucracy, let her be our guest.
The solution is the opposite, and I’ve written about it in articles since 2008 and more recently in my books – Brussels needs to find intelligent and unobtrusive ways to participate in the domestic developments in the “problematic” post-communist member states so as to support those wishing to turn their societies into highly developed, free countries with the rule of law. Large parts of the Eastern European publics have been hoping for precisely that as their own civil societies have proven too week to dislodge the oligarchs from power by themselves.
Then in her first interview, Ursula von der Leyen is the first top EU official to make some sense on the Eastern Europeans position on migration, and in particular the influx of migrants from outside of Europe.
Whether one thinks the influx of millions of non-European migrants into Europe is a good idea, or not, one could still at least agree that EU member states have the right to decide whether they want to go for it, or not, and that it would not be fair for some member states to coerce the others into doing that on such a sensitive issue. That is a matter of principle, without even getting into the whole “immigration debate”, and the fact that the ruling establishments in Western Europe have for some reason been treating nations, societies, and identities as corporations, organizations, and jobs.
So Ursula von der Leyen finally talks sense on that issue with respect to the unwillingness of the Eastern European member states to open their gates for the settlement of millions of non-European migrants, the dominant Western European paradigm whose rationalizations are often perplexing.
Here are Von der Leyen’s words:
“I think we have to properly listen to the arguments. For example, the Poles make the justified point that they have taken in 1.5 million people from the Ukraine – a country that has for years been the site of a hybrid war in which people are still dying. We must not ignore that.
“Also, the member states who want to go ahead [with a refugee distribution scheme] are already in the process of finding solutions. But it remains the case that in different areas every member state needs the solidarity of the others. We need a fair sharing of the burden – maybe in different areas for different countries.”
“Those people in danger in the Mediterranean need to be saved, but this does not mean that they have to be brought to Europe automatically. We must also act consistently against the reasons why they end up in the sea, including the criminals organizing their travel.
“We need secured external borders and the common observation of the Dublin asylum system so the Schengen area can function and internal borders can remain open.”
Note that Ursula von der Leyen’s mention of Ukraine and its situation, and, by extension, of the ongoing war there, a major war raging on European soil since 2014, may have been the first time a top-ranking Brussels politician is juxtaposing Eastern Europe to the migrant crisis in terms of being EU priorities.
The fact of the matter is that Western Europe and the EU as a whole have been woefully neglecting not just Ukraine but also their own peers, the Eastern European EU member states, while focusing overwhelmingly on the problem of migration – just one more case of putting the rest of the world before their fellow Europeans, for little rational reason.
Still, isn’t Von der Leyen just parroting the tenets put forth by Orban and Kaczynski as well as Italy’s Matteo Salvini, who practically voted her into office?
Just as the worrying part of her statements mentioned above, isn’t her “more nuanced” approach on migration and the position of the Eastern European and Italian state leaders just another way of kowtowing to them?
It probably is. Although that doesn’t mean her words don’t make sense.
It must be understood that if the Eastern European member states somehow stop facing the Western Europeans’ insistence that they take in large numbers of migrants from the Middle East and Africa (who usually head to the Western European part of the EU anyway), that would rob the wannabe dictators of Eastern Europe of their migrant crisis scarecrow, and they will no longer be able to use it in order to scare off their societies into putting up with their excesses and abuses.
So at the end of the day, it wouldn’t matter how exactly Ursula von der Leyen got voted into office.
If she is smart enough, she could outplay the unpleasant state leaders who put her into office for the sake of integrity, common sense, and the Europeans’ well-being.
For the sake of preserving and boosting the EU for it proves to be the one, if not the only one of the powers capable of taking decisive action for all humanity in the time of rapidly worsening climate change.
“In central and eastern European countries, many feel that they’re not fully accepted,” Von der Leyen observed in her first interview, and it’s hard not to agree with her observation.
Regardless of how she got elected, and probably precisely because of that, Ursula von der Leyen has the chance to build up the European Union like no-one before her precisely by prioritizing first and foremost the solidifying of the integration of Western and Eastern Europe – still the greatest and most important challenge for the Union.
Good luck with that.
(Banner image: Ursula von der Leyen on Twitter)