EU State of the Union: European Parliament reaction

In many ways, the reaction of the European Parliament’s political groups to Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the Union address followed predictable patterns, explains Andreas Rogal
Ursula von der Leyen | Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Andreas Rogal

Andreas Rogal is a Brussels-based journalist and copy editor

15 Sep 2021

The European Parliament’s largest political group, the centre-right EPP applauded the hour-long speech’s content, adding further proposals to the already impressively long list of initiatives suggested by von der Leyen.

A ‘Jobs Deal’ to complement the Green Deal, starting talks with the USA about sectoral trade deals before re-launching efforts for an Free Trade Agreement, and enable research to come to fruition quicker.

The latter would be facilitated by what EPP Group leader in the Parliament; Manfred Weber called an “immediate action plan for cutting bureaucracy in the EU.” Involving all stakeholders, 300 EU regulations would be identified as surplus to requirement and either “abolished or simplified” within the next twelve months.

This sounded familiar to veteran observers of EU policy who remember the "High level group on administrative burdens" of the Barroso Commission, headed by Weber’s old mentor, former Bavarian minister president Edmund Stoiber, which, after several years of mostly invisible work produced a report about cutting red tape in 2014 that was largely ignored, but did go on to inspire Barroso’s successor Jean-Claude Juncker’s approach to legislation.

It wasn’t the most popular initiative with MEPs, as legislation slowed down considerably. However, the EPP believes that the lessons learned from the pandemic, namely about the fast-tracking of vaccination approvals, can lead to similarly quick results in other areas of research.

The S&D Group meanwhile demanded more attention to that old stalwart, the social pillar. The Socialists’ leader Iratxe García Pérez called the Commission’s flagship Green Deal unbalanced in that respect and argued that “we have to strengthen the Social Climate Fund. The goal of any policy has to be the wellbeing of the people. We haven’t done enough here.”

"The European Parliament’s largest political group, the centre-right EPP applauded the hour-long speech’s content, adding further proposals to the already impressively long list of initiatives suggested by von der Leyen"

However, the S&D group picked out the Commission President’s announcement to propose legislation to combat gender based violence by the end of this year as being particularly praiseworthy

Renew Group leader Dacian Cioloș welcomed von der Leyen’s clear words on the rule of law but found the actions taken so far by the Commission lacking: “I don’t see you use the Conditionality Regulation like the European Parliament has called for to protect our budget. You have to find the courage to use this mechanism. If you don’t, we will have to remind you of your obligation by going to the European Court of Justice.”

The former Romanian prime minister also called it a “mistake” of the Commission President to engage in diplomacy with the Council rather than in policymaking with the Parliament.

For the Greens/EFA, progress in fighting climate change was deemed far too slow. “Why wait until 2032, yes, 2032, to introduce a tax on kerosene, Madame President?” asked an exasperated group chair Philippe Lamberts.

Summing up the group’s stance and stressing the responsibility Europe had in the face of not only climate change but also the global refugee crisis, Lamberts invoked the recent departure of a large Member State: “At the time of Brexit we told the British that you cannot have your cake and eat it, too. It is time we applied this truth to ourselves as well.” It was, remarkably, the only time Brexit or the UK were mentioned during the whole debate.

 

"Renew Group leader Dacian Cioloș welcomed von der Leyen’s clear words on the rule of law but found the actions taken so far by the Commission lacking: “I don’t see you use the Conditionality Regulation like the European Parliament has called for to protect our budget. You have to find the courage to use this mechanism. If you don’t, we will have to remind you of your obligation by going to the European Court of Justice”

ID group leader Jörg Meuthen dismissed everything in the von der Leyen’s speech with his usual rhetorical flourish. When the Commission President looked back on the year’s work, it was misplaced “false emotionalism”, and the Green Deal, Fit for 55 and Recovery and Resilience Facility were all “unprecedented orgies of expenditure for a forced, alleged happiness delivery from Brussels.” Two fellow MEPs seemed impressed enough to applaud his verbose outburst.

The ECR did accept that climate change, as well as the challenges of the digital age, had to be tackled but, as chair Raffaele Fitto put it, “not by pointing the finger at people and calling them demagogues because they raise real issues.”

Rule of law infringement procedures the Fratelli d’Italia politician labelled “efforts to force majority views onto others, which runs counter to the principles of a Union that should respect diversity and the competences of the individual Member States.”

The Left meanwhile demanded the blockade by the EU on waiving vaccine patents to be lifted, as also requested by “this parliament, 140 former heads of state, Nobel prize winners and more than a hundred states around the world” group chair Martin Schirdewan exclaimed.

This, he argued, was necessary to overcome the COVID pandemic across the entire world, “including the global South”, a concern rarely absent in the Left’s considerations.

"ID group leader Jörg Meuthen dismissed everything in the von der Leyen’s speech with his usual rhetorical flourish. When the Commission President looked back on the year’s work, it was misplaced “false emotionalism”, and the Green Deal, Fit for 55 and Recovery and Resilience Facility were all “unprecedented orgies of expenditure for a forced, alleged happiness delivery from Brussels.” Two fellow MEPs seemed impressed enough to applaud his verbose outburst"

For the non-aligned members who in this legislature are dominated by the Italian Five Star Movement, Tiziana Beghin called for the Stability Pact to be turned into a “Solidarity and Development Pact”, which would be “a pact to replace austerity with solidarity”, and in line with the position of the vast majority of Italian politicians.

Having listened through all the MEPs, Ursula von der Leyen said the debate had shown that within the European Parliament, “there is a big majority in this house with the spur and the will to implement”.

And that, after all, is what will be needed now, especially with all the big legislative projects the Commission president vowed would be going ahead.

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