Von der Leyens promises to address some of the UK’s direst needs: Poverty, Social Security, Clean Air Cities

The speech by German minister Von der Leyen (VDL), the proposed president of the European Commission, appealing to the sceptical centre parties (Liberals, Social Democrats, Greens) in the European Parliament, brought the Brexit Party MEPs to howls of both approval and anguish, according to Dutch media.

When she regretfully accepted that the UK appears on the way out, Farage’s bench applauded wildly. But when she added that she is ready to extend negotiations beyond Halloween, those cheers instantly turned into jeers.

And in his response, Farage again trotted out the “EU = Soviet Eastern Bloc” trope, to which VDL responded “we can probably do without what you have got to say here”. Dutch media quoted VDL responding to Farage’s Orbanite allies:  “I didn’t expect to get your support”.

In her speech, and in the accompanying resignation of controversial EU insider/super-technocrat Martin Selmayr, many saw new points that address failings in the present EU procedures, decision-making and legislation:

  • Giving the European Parliament the right to initiative; possibly heralding a critical review of EU nomination, decision and policy making procedures;
  • Opening up a formal debate about transnational party lists and “Spitzenkandidaten” at the next European elections; and
  • Starting, in this Trumpian era, a debate in the EU Human & Civil Rights agenda about sexual violence and its female (and LGBTQ+) victims.

Which beggars the question: why leave the EU just when it finally addresses shortcomings and failures of its democracy and human rights?

But just as Jacques Delors gained instant TUC popularity when he launched the EU’s “Social Charter” in 1989 (see: Allan Sked & Chris Cook’s book, Post-War Britain 1945-1992; Penguin 1993; p. 540,567), the only part of the EU even a Eurosceptic union like Unite will rue losing when executing her urgent Brexit desire, VDL promises initiatives that address some dire needs of present-day Britain.

First she supports Frans Timmermans’ proposal (Dutch Labour; stays on as commissioner) for striving after a European Minimum Wage.

She also promises a European guarantee on the payment of Unemployment Benefits; something Britain with its dog’s breakfast-like rollout of, and issues around, Universal Credit payments (and payment fraudsters) would welcome if it stayed in the EU.

Her promise to treble the ERASMUS budget (see the concept text of VDL’s speech at 14:44 minutes) will turn many aspiring British youngsters into even more ardent anti-Brexiteers, and enhance the worries in British academic and R&D circles about being excluded just when EU funding expands.

VDL proposes, in her “Green Deal” package, channelling European Investment Bank {EIB} funds to making climate change transition by companies and authorities more affordable; launching a European CO2 tax/levy (and ditto “Border Tax” for companies moving country to avoid levies); making part of the EIB into a “European Climate Bank” (Dutch media), and launching a special “Transition Fund” (ibidem) for countries lagging behind.

Seeing the dire state of British environmental policy (and life quality in neglected brownfield areas) after the Tories stripped away what Coalition minister Ed Davey built up, and the rising problem of toxic fumes in inner city streets, this is just what a doctor (VDL is gynaecologist) should order.

* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.

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11 Comments

  • John Peters 17th Jul '19 - 6:24pm

    How dare Farage raise the “EU = Soviet Eastern Bloc” trope.

    In the Soviet Union when there is only one candidate they get far more that 54% of the vote. A bit close – I expect a new vote will be needed.

  • There are a couple of points.
    One is that that we have established that the House of Commons does not have the right to initiate legislation. But it is the parliament of a sovereign country.
    The European Parliament is not the parliament of a sovereign country. Sovereignty rests with the individual nations. So the individual nations have to jointly initiate legislation.
    As far as transnational lists are concerned, my question is how they can work. How can a candidate campaign in different countries in different languages? The suggestion I have seen is that there are Europe wide debates. And the language? English! If we believe in equal opportunity we should not discriminate against those not fluent in a foreign language.
    However the learning point was that Mr Farage’s contributions were clear, understandable and therefore widely used by the media.
    Where was the similar clarity from the pro EU side.

  • Bill le Breton 18th Jul '19 - 9:28am

    This is not a rosy picture.

    Never mind the accusations in Germany itself of Ursula von der Leyen’s incompetence and worse.

    Her majority of 9 included the support of the Polish PiS, Viktor Orban’s Fidesz and Beppe Grillo’s Five Star Movement.

    As nearly a quarter of the members of the three centrist parties that announced their support for her didn’t support her, she will continue to be reliant on purchasing the votes of PiS, Fidesz and Five Star.

    We shall learn details of the price she has paid for their support over the coming months but don’t expect much EU action against ultra right activities in their and other countries.

  • Bernard Aris 18th Jul '19 - 12:25pm

    @Bill le Breton.

    The Dutch Labour (PvdA) and Green (GroenLinks) MEP’s have said that their vote against VDL in THIS vote was a sign of protest against the backroom dealing way VDL got nominated; they will be happy to support VDL’s points in future. That will also be the behaviour of other Green and Socialdemocratic MEP’s (although the mood in the German SPD is distinctly negative); so the VDL Commission will have broader support than this vote signified.

    And the PiS with its rural electorate “knows on which side its bread is buttered” as the Duth saying goes (CAP and Structural Subsidies), so her resistance will always be more bark than bite.

    And the Italian Five Star Movement hates the extreme right wing elements (inside Lega, Fratelli d’Italia) in Italian politics; so they will support if the VDL Commission delivers pushback to such proposals or initiatives by Salvini.

  • Bill le Breton 18th Jul '19 - 1:34pm

    Thank you Bernard. We shall see.

    What we all need is a co-ordinated fiscal stimulus across the Eurozone accompanied by renewed monetary stimulus. Do we have the right President for that?

  • Bernard Aris 18th Jul '19 - 3:22pm

    About the comments of Dutch Labour (PvdA) EU Commissionner Frans Timmermans in tonight’s BBC Panorama about 3 years of Brexit “misadventures”:

    what Timmermans says is exactly the impression many in Dutch government (coalition) circles have about the
    *) incompetence,
    *) insouciance and
    *)non-preparedness
    of leading British Brexiteers, both in and out of Westminster and the May governments.

    One can read what Timmermans says as the official Dutch government analysis too. Our image of both Whitehall competence and British political and administrative professionalism has taken a number of hard hits the past three years.
    The episode of the shipping company without any ships or any shipping experience, hired by May’s government for emergency post-Brexit deliveries, proves to be exemplary.

    And we Dutch are, and have been ever since the first British EEC application, one of the biggest British allies on the continent. We feel badly let down by London.

  • Bernard Aris 18th Jul '19 - 5:40pm

    Aboud British Science, R&D and Innovation being badly hit , structurally starved of new migrant EU scientists, by a “Bad or No Deal Brexit”, and a “Hostile Environment” imm igration regime, see the letter by the Royal Society to Johnson & Hurt; BBC News:
    https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-49017771

  • Peter Martin 19th Jul '19 - 11:59am

    I have to say the EU haven’t done UK remainers any favours by choosing Ursula von der Leyen in a back room “stitch up” deal.

    It will be easy all too for Leavers to paint a highly undesirable picture of a von der Leyen led EU.

    Does she want?

    European army? Yes. She does

    A steady removal of the ability of National veto? Yes that too

    A United States of Europe? Yes. This is her “dream”.

    She’ll always be known as “the failed German defence minister Ursula von der Leyen” with heavy emphasis on her Prussian aristocratic sounding name.

  • It is a bit disconcerting to attack our new Commission President even before she starts her new role. If she deals with some of the reasons so many voted to leave, it will give us a stronger platform to campaign on during any future referendum. If the eu is changing, it won’t be fully what we want but the question will be if whether it starts to address some of its weaknesses.

  • Bernard Aris 19th Jul '19 - 2:14pm

    According to an eyewitness account in the Dutch Center-Left online eweekly Vrij Nederland
    *) 3 Scotish Green Party MEP supported VDL (in direct contravention of their party’s whip) because of her “extending Brexit Deadline”-point.
    *) Green SpItzenkandidaat Bas Eickhout (Dutch) was before the vote loudly announcing a “No”, but the day after he said “VDL now eeds our support to getr her Green promises realised, so we’ll put demands to her”.
    *) the Dutch PvdA (Labour) MEP were switching in their utterances before and after the vote just as oppoprtunistic.
    *) the Italian Five Star Movement voted FOR VDL to spite their government coalition partner Lega Nord.

  • Peter Martin 22nd Jul '19 - 7:34am

    @ Bill le Breton,

    You say

    “What we all need is a co-ordinated fiscal stimulus across the Eurozone accompanied by renewed monetary stimulus.”

    This is true enough. I don’t see any comment, either positive or negative, from Bernard Aris though. I suspect that’s because he doesn’t have any idea what you’re talking about.

    Then you ask:

    “Do we have the right President for that?”

    Well, no, we obviously don’t. But who would be the right President? It’s perhaps a little unfair to single out Bernard Aris. I’m not sure what it is about Dutch and German people but, by and large, no-one understands Keynesian economics. Even those on the left seem to have a mental block. Although it’s hard to see the difficulty.

    So, to satisfy your criterion we’d have to look elsewhere for our new President. To Greece and Yanis Varoufakis maybe? I’m not quite sure just how much support he’s likely to get but its hard to see anyone who is at all acceptable to the EU mainstream being at all prepared, even in the slightest, to move in that direction.

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