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Von der Leyen urges 'green deal' for a more united EU

July 16, 2019

Von der Leyen said just before her election as European Commission president she would make Europe the "first climate neutral continent." She also pledged more female EU commissioners and to extend the Brexit date.

Ursula von der Leyen
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

Germany's Ursula von der Leyen on Tuesday pledged to address climate change, as she attempted to win support in her final speech to the European Parliament before it voted on her nomination for president of the European Commission.

Von der Leyen emphasized to EU lawmakers the need for Europe to remain united in dealing with authoritarianism, protectionism and, most pressingly, climate change. "We must first rediscover our unity; if we are united on the inside nobody will divide us from the outside," she said.

"Our most pressing challenge is keeping our planet healthy," von der Leyen told EU lawmakers, adding that she would propose legislation within her first 100 days to make Europe the "first climate neutral continent in the world by 2050."

The backroom talks that led to von der Leyen's nomination caused controversy among some parties and resulted in a coalition of Green, euroskeptic and left-wing MEPs refusing to vote for her on principle.

Green parties made their strongest-ever showing in European Union elections earlier this year and von der Leyen was hoping to win them over.

European representatives from Germany's center-left Social Democrats (SPD) had also threatened to give their votes to someone else. In the end, she won by a slim majority of 383 out of 747 votes.

Read more: Who is Ursula von der Leyen, the surprise compromise as European Commission president?

'Emissions must have a price'

Von der Leyen said all sectors would have to contribute, "from aviation to maritime transport to the way each and every one of us travels and lives, emissions must have a price that changes our behavior."

She said there would be a "just transition fund" to support economies that were not as advanced.

"Not all about regions have the same starting point but we all share the same destination," von der Leyen said. "This is why I will propose a just transition fund to support those most affected. This is the European way: we are ambitious; we leave nobody behind."

Von der Leyen had announced Monday that she would step down from leading the defense ministry in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government this week regardless of happens in the vote.

Read more: From the EU to Trump: Where does Ursula von der Leyen stand?

'We want our fair share'

Von der Leyen pledged to appoint a fully gender-equal board of EU commissioners and to take action on violence against women.

Since the EU's executive branch was formed in 1958, just 35 of the 183 commissioners have been women, von der Leyen said. "We represent half of our population. We want our fair share," she added.

The conservative politician went on to say that violence against women is "not a women's issue" and pledged to include it in the list of crimes specified in the EU's treaty.

"If we close the gaps between us, we will emerge stronger as a union," she said.

Brexit extension

Von der Leyen said she would grant another extension for the Brexit deadline if the UK needed it to assure an orderly withdrawal from the bloc.

The UK is due to leave the bloc on October 31, which is already a half-year delay from the original departure date.

Britain, however, has been wracked by internal division over the terms of departure agreed with the EU.

"I stand ready for a further extension of the withdrawal date should more time be required," she told EU lawmakers.

law/rc (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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