What you need to know
- European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen billed reforms under her watch as the 'most ambitious transformations' the bloc had ever embarked on
- She said the EU had become a 'geopolitical union,' for instance by supporting Ukraine or responding to an assertive China
- Ukraine has made 'great strides' as it seeks to join the EU, having been granted candidate status, said von der Leyen
- EU legislation on irregular migration was '20 years old' and in need of modernization, she said
- Despite speaking for around an hour, she did not say if she'd seek another term during next year's EU elections
France official says geopolitical tensions call for EU expansion
Commenting to DW on Wednesday after von der Leyen's speech, French Secretary of State for Europe Laurence Boone said that Russia's invasion of Ukraine had thrown the question of European security into a sharper focus.
Asked why France, once reticent on the idea of EU expansion, was now leading the push to expand the 27 members, Boone said this was a key reason.
"It will be no surprise if I tell you that the world has changed, right?," Boone said. "We have geopolitical tensions all over the place. We have a war on our border."
"What is the most important thing for the European Union today is the security of the continent. And for this security to materialize, we need to make sure that we have a very strong, large EU where all the democratic states are cooperating together. This is what will be driving enlargement," Boone said.
However, she also said that this would not translate into relaxing the rules of joining the bloc.
"We will be very strong on the rule of law," she said. "But we will have those countries. It will be good for them and good for us."
Boone also commented on von der Leyen's announcement of launching a probe into the Chinese electric cars subsidies. She said it was important to protect the European car manufacturing industry and the single market against "unfair competition."
"So when a company is heavily subsidized by a state and tries to enter the single market, displacing the local car manufacturer, this is unfair."
Boone said taxes, levies or import restrictions could be imposed if the investigation finds evidence of unfair subsidies.
Von der Leyen's speech sounded like 'reelection speech,' DW correspondent says
Alexandra von Nahmen, DW Brussels Bureau Chief who was covering von der Leyen's speech from Strasbourg, said the European Commission president's speech sounded to her like a "re-election speech," even though she steered clear of addressing whether she intended to run for a second term.
Von Nahmen said the speech gave the impression that "she would like to stay on," describing it as an optimistic speech.
"Of course she didn't announce that she's ready to run again as president of the European Commission, but the energy she has shown, the goals that she presented, making clear she's ready to take on the challenges and she's ready to address the many issues that were listed in her speech."
Von der Leyen certainly tried to emphasize the pace of change during her tenure, seeming to tout her legacy as a far-reaching and significant one for the bloc.
Von der Leyen says now 'Europe's moment to answer call of history'
Von der Leyen wrapped up her annual address to the EU parliament, by addressing the continent's youth.
"It is the moment to show them that we can build a continent where you can be who you are, love who you want, aim as high as you want. A continent reconciled with nature and leading the way on new technologies. A continent that is united in freedom and peace," she said.
"Once again this is Europe's moment to answer the call of history."
The speech, which lasted in the region of an hour, did not touch on arguably the most anticipated question — whether von der Leyen hopes to continue in her role after the European Parliament elections of 2024.
Ukraine made 'great strides' on EU succession route, Von der Leyen says
"I know this is not an easy road. Accession is merits based," Von der Leyen said. "It takes a lot of work and leadership. But there's already a lot of progress."
She hailed the determination of some of the countries eager to join the bloc, saying "it is now time for us to match this determination."
Multiple countries currently have EU candidate status — Turkey famously has had it for more than 20 years — but it's not entirely clear when the EU will grow from its current tally of 27 members.
Von der Leyen said that past waves of EU expansion had come with a round of "political deepening," and that the bloc would have to look into how it would operate with more than 30 members.
"I believe the next enlargement must also be a catalyst for progress."
AI startups initiative announced
Von der Leyen announced during her speech an initiative to open up EU high-performance computers to Artificial Intelligence (AI) start-ups.
The EU Commission president called for a global AI panel to focus on possible risks and benefits for humanity.
Means to tackle human smuggling needs 'urgent update'
Von der Leyen also addressed the issue of human smuggling and migrants, often from Africa or the Middle East, seeking to reach Europe irregularly.
"We know that migration requires constant work, and nowhere is that more vital than in the fight against human smugglers," she said.
"They attract desperate people with their lies. And put them on deadly routes across the desert, or on boats that are unfit for the sea."
Although the way the smugglers work was "continuously evolving," von der Leyen said EU legislation was 20 years old "and needs an urgent update."
She announced that the Commission was planning to organize an international conference on fighting people smuggling.
"It is time to put an end to this callous and criminal business," she said.
Von der Leyen dresses importance on focus on Africa
The European Commission president also referenced the turbulences witnessed on the African continent, from the series of coups in recent months and years to more recent natural disasters such as the earthquake in Morocco and the floods in Libya.
Von der Leyen said it was crucial for Europe to support Africa the same way it was supporting Ukraine.
She referenced Russia's increasing involvement in Africa and warned of the threats it posed.
"We need to show the same unity of purpose toward Africa as we have shown for Ukraine," she said.
EU should seek trade agreements with Australia, Mexico, South America
The bloc should seek to finalize free trade agreements with Australia, Mexico and the South American bloc Mercosur by the end of the year, von der Leyen said.
She also advocated exploring potential deals with India and Indonesia.
Von der Leyen said the EU was stepping up partnerships with countries to increase the bloc's access to critical minerals.
She said the EU could convene a meeting of a "critical raw materials club" later this year with its partners in the field. This was likely a reference in no small part to so-called rare earths.
EU will probe China electric car subsidies, Von der Leyen says
Von der Leyen said that the EU would investigate Chinese state subsidies for electric cars. She said she would defend Europe's industry against "artificially low prices."
She warned that global markets were becoming "flooded" with cheaper Chinese electric cars, describing their prices as "artificially low by huge state subsidies."
Chinese carmakers, although mainly uncompetitive abroad in the combustion engine market, are threatening to make international inroads in the electric car market.
Von Der Leyen promises more work on European Green Deal
Von Der Leyen also celebrated the European Green Deal, which was approved in 2020, calling it an important step toward a more green future.
"We saw the chaos and carnage of extreme weather, from Slovenia to Bulgaria and right across our Union. This is the reality of a boiling planet," she said.
"The European Green Deal was born out of this necessity: to protect our planet. But it was also designed as an opportunity: to preserve our future prosperity."
She said the "climate agenda" had "shifted" to being an "economic one" during her tenure, claiming that this "has given a clear sense of direction for investment and innovation."
She celebrated that the EU now attracts more clean hydrogen investment than the US and China combined, and said that the number of clean steel factories in the EU had gone from zero to 38 in five years.
"Europe's industry is showing every single day that it is ready to power this transition, proving that modernization and decarbonization can go hand in hand," she said.
Hails 'most ambitious transformations' during her tenure
Von der Leyen alluded to some of the major policies of her tenure, thanking the European Parliament for their support in what she described as "the most ambitious transformations this Union has ever embarked on."
"When I stood in front of you in 2019 with my program for a green, a digital and geopolitical Europe, I know that some had doubts," she said. "And that was before the world was turned updside down with a global pandemic and a brutal war on European soil."
The former German defense minister said the bloc had grown amid these challenges.
"We've seen the birth of a geopolitical union, supporting Ukraine, standing up to Russia's aggression, responding to an assertive China, investing in partnerships. We now have a European Green Deal as a centerpiece of our economy, and unmatched in ambition. We've set the path for digital transition to become global pioneers in online rights," von der Leyen told the European Parliament.
Von der Leyen addresses achievements in women's rights
Ursula Von der Leyen has addressed the achievements reached during her tenure in the field of women's rights, including the base principle that equal work equals equal pay.
"Our work is far from over. We must continue to push for progress together," she said, addressing women's rights. She added that another legal text was needed on that path, one that enshrines that "no means no."
Von der Leyen begins annual state of the union speech
EU Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen has started her annual state of the union speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
Von der Leyen said that the time ahead of next year's European election was a time to reflect, but also time to decide on "what kind of future and what kind of Europe they want."
Von der Leyen to deliver annual speech
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is scheduled to deliver her annual address to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France on Wednesday.
The speech usually features the head of the EU's executive arm showcasing past achievements, and overviewing priorities for the future.
You'll be able to watch live here on DW. The speech should start at or around 9 a.m. CEST (0700 GMT/UTC).
Von der Leyen's term, ongoing since 2019, is due to end next year, with the EU elections slated for June. It remains to be seen whether the German former defense minister will seek a second term.
Though she has lost a couple of commissioners, she is still well-placed to seek a fresh term.