Monday 16 December 2019

New EU chief sworn in ahead of turbulent times

United: ECB President Christine Lagarde, EC President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and European Parliament President David Sassoli at the Lisbon Treaty ceremony. Photo: Reuters
United: ECB President Christine Lagarde, EC President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel and European Parliament President David Sassoli at the Lisbon Treaty ceremony. Photo: Reuters

James Rothwell

The new head of the European Commission began her tenure yesterday with the bloc facing a turbulent future.

Ursula von der Leyen, a German who was the longest-serving member of Angela Merkel's cabinet, took the reins from Jean-Claude Juncker in a handover ceremony. It is the first time the senior role has been held by a woman and will make her one of the most powerful officials in Europe.

The 61-year-old has said that climate change will be one of her top priorities, and she is due to unveil a European Green Deal on December 11.

During her tenure, which will last for five years, she also hopes to introduce a European living wage and eliminate the gender pay gap.

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She may come under pressure to strengthen the EU's borders and find a consensus for the bloc's approach to Russia, a big concern for EU members such as Poland, Latvia and Estonia.

"Europe is a promise, is the future, is something we all have to build, brick by brick and day by day," Ms Von der Leyen said.

As for Brexit, the change of leader is unlikely to affect the substance of the negotiations. Ms Von Der Leyen has warned that a hard Brexit would have "massively negative consequences" for both the UK and EU.

She has also said Brexit should be the start of a new relationship. "The way in which we carry out Brexit will determine our future relationship to our neighbour. For both sides it is of the highest interest there is an orderly and good beginning to our future relationships," she said earlier this year.

She marked her first day in office with a speech for the 10th anniversary of the Lisbon Treaty, alongside the new presidents of the European Council, the European Parliament and the European Central Bank.

The Lisbon Treaty simplified decision-making in a union recently expanded to 28 members with the inclusion of 12 states from the former Soviet bloc.

"There could be no better day to begin the work than this anniversary... we are the custodian of the Lisbon spirit," Ms Von der Leyen said. "It is our duty to preserve this treasure."

Former Belgian prime minister Charles Michel has succeeded Donald Tusk as the European Council president and will chair the summits of EU leaders.

Christine Lagarde, France's former IMF chief, is the new president of the ECB, while Italy's David Sassoli has become the president of the European Parliament after serving as a vice-president.

Telegraph.co.uk

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