“We have the responsibility to leave our children a Union that is stronger than the one we have inherited,” Ursula von der Leyen said on 1 December as she took up her mandate, becoming the first woman to lead the European Commission. Now that the European Parliament has approved the entire Commission, the European Union can set to work and tackle the great challenges it faces. Foreign Minister Maas had the following to say:
Tremendous challenges lie ahead of us: Brexit, climate change, 5G network expansion, a rise in protectionism and reform of the European asylum system – to mention only a few. To master these great challenges, Europe must present a united front and become a stronger player on the global stage. The new President is right to refer to her team as the ‘geopolitical’ Commission.
Foreign and defence policy
Germany wants the Commission to work on uniting Europe on the inside and strengthening it on the outside. Josep Borell, the new High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, will play a key role in this regard. Foreign Minister Maas will support his work, also by campaigning for a rules-based multilateral order and helping to find solutions to crises and conflicts.
Both Germany and the newly elected European Commission are strong advocates of a European perspective for the countries of the Western Balkans. Foreign Minister Maas firmly believes that, “Without the Western Balkans, the European project would remain incomplete. The Western Balkans are surrounded by European member states. We cannot allow any uncertainty or instability to take hold there.” He went on to say that it is also a question of our own security, because enlargement policy is also security policy. People in the Western Balkans, he stressed, belong to us, to Europe, and they see their future in the EU. North Macedonia and Albania in particular have pursued reforms in preparation for EU membership. “We must now keep our word and, together with the new Commission, keep moving the EU enlargement process forward,” Maas said.
Displacement and migration
Ursula von der Leyen wants to expand the European Union’s border management system and make a fresh attempt at EU asylum reform. Regarding sea rescues in the Mediterranean, the President of the Commission wants a “permanent approach” to replace “ad hoc solutions”.
Germany stands behind these efforts of the Commission, because the European asylum system is in urgent need of reform. The German Government would like to see the Commission take up this issue again in a spirit of solidarity and shared responsibility, because the burden of taking in refugees must not be borne by only a few EU members states. Countries that accept fewer refugees, Germany argues, must make an even greater effort in other areas – for example, by protecting Europe’s external borders or providing assistance to countries of origin.