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16 Jul 2019, 13:08
Julian Wettengel

EU top job candidate promises "Green Deal" and "Climate Law" for Europe ahead of crunch vote

Photo shows European Commission president candidate Ursula von der Leyen during her programmatic speech to the European Parliament in July 2019. Source: EP/Daina le Lardic 2019.
A Green Deal and the commitment to climate neutrality by 2050 are among the key climate policy proposals by European Commission candidate Ursula von der Leyen. Source: EP/Daina le Lardic 2019.

German defence minister and European Commission candidate Ursula von der Leyen told Members of the European Parliament that if elected, she would introduce a "Green Deal" for Europe in her first 100 days in office, including a continent-wide "Climate Law" to enshrine the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 into law. Commentators said her speech’s focus on climate as the key issue shows that climate policy has entered mainstream European politics. The outcome of the secret ballot, scheduled for the evening, is still uncertain, but she is expected to have the backing of most members of the three biggest political groups. 

The German candidate for president of the European Commission, defence minister Ursula von der Leyen, has put climate policy front and centre of her pitch to members of the European Parliament, who are due to vote on the EU top job later in the day. 

“Our most pressing challenge is keeping our planet healthy. It is the greatest responsibility and opportunity of our times,” she said in her speech ahead of the vote. She said she would introduce a "Green Deal" for Europe in her first 100 days in office, including a continent-wide "Climate Law" to enshrine the goal of climate neutrality by 2050 into law. Shortly after the speech, von der Leyen published her 21-page “Agenda for Europe” with details on her proposals.

With her remarks, von der Leyen doubled down on earlier climate policy promises already made in a letter to parliamentary groups. She said the 2030 greenhouse gas emissions reduction goal of 40 percent is “not enough” and called for a “two-step approach” to reduce emissions by “50, if not 55 percent”. 

Von der Leyen needs the backing of an absolute majority in the European Parliament to be confirmed as president of the European Commission. Her nomination has been controversial because she was not one of the leading candidates in the European parliament elections. Climate and energy policy have never been her brief or the focus of her political engagement, though she indicated in recent comments that she took the climate crisis seriously.

While von der Leyen’s win is uncertain, commentators and parliamentarians said her chances had improved. She is expected to have the backing of most in the two largest groups, the conservative EPP and the Socialists & Democrats (S&D), as well as the liberals (Renew Europe).

Von der Leyen’s remarks are likely not enough to convince members of the Greens/EFA group to reverse their decision not to give the German minister their votes, but it is “illustrative of how deep into the mainstream the fight against climate change has penetrated in the era of Fridays for Future [and] surging Green parties,” wrote the Economist columnist Jeremy Cliffe in a message on Twitter

Von der Leyen said under her the EU “will lead international negotiations to increase the level of ambition of other major economies by 2021”, as the world had to “move together” to achieve real impact on climate change. She added that an increase in ambition will need “investments on a major scale” and she intended to propose a sustainable Europe investment plan and turn part of the European Investment Bank (EIB) a “climate bank”, which would unlock one trillion euros over the next decade. Von der Leyen plans to introduce a carbon border tax to avoid carbon leakage

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