New EU chief flags climate policy as Europe’s ‘new growth strategy’

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen reacts before the vote of Members of the European Parliament on her college of commissioners at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 27 November 2019. [EPA-EFE/PATRICK SEEGER]

The new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, cited climate policy as the most pressing issue facing her new executive team, which was officially confirmed by a vote in the European Parliament on Wednesday (27 November).

EU lawmakers confirmed von der Leyen as European Commission president along with her new team of 26 Commissioners, with 461 voting in favour, 157 against and 89 abstentions.

And the climate crisis featured at the top of her address to MEPs.

“We don’t have a moment to waste any more on fighting climate change,” von der Leyen told the assembly shortly before the vote in a speech delivered in English, French and German.

“If there is one area where the world needs our leadership, it is on protecting our climate. This is an existential issue for Europe – and for the world,” said the 61-year old former German defence minister, citing forest fires in Portugal and the recent floods in Venice as compelling reasons to move forward as quickly as possible.

But for von der Leyen, climate policy is about much more than protecting the environment or tackling air pollution. It’s also chiefly an economic policy.

“The European Green Deal is our new growth strategy,” she said. “The faster Europe moves, the greater the advantage will be for our citizens, our competitiveness and our prosperity.”

The European Commission last year calculated that the EU’s GDP will increase by 2% by 2050 if the bloc slashes its emissions to a net-zero level. And the EU’s fossil fuel import bill could be cut by €2-3 trillion over the 20 years leading up to 2050, the EU executive said in its long-term energy and climate strategy published in November last year.

But von der Leyen also warned that climate policies “will need massive investment” and that green initiatives would have to be “inclusive” – a gesture to member states such as Poland that still rely on coal for jobs, energy and growth.

“We will support people and businesses with a targeted just transition mechanism,” she said in a nod to countries like Poland, which have requested additional funding to phase out its highly polluting coal power sector. MORE

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