Von der Leyen’s speech: where is the EU heading?

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has delivered her final State of the Union address before the European elections 2024. She painted a picture of an EU that stands united behind Ukraine, that is taking unprecedented measures to fight climate catastrophe and that can move towards enlargement without becoming ineffectual. She made no mention of a potential second term in office. Commentators take a closer look at her statements.

The Irish Times (IE) /

Member states need to be convinced

The most important signal went to Ukraine, The Irish Times comments:

“Von der Leyen’s main message was on the moral imperative of politically committing to the next round of enlargement, primarily membership for Ukraine. ‘The future of Ukraine is in our Union. We will be at Ukraine’s side … for as long as it takes,’ she said. The enlargement agenda includes Serbia, the Western Balkans and Moldova. That will require a profound reimagining of internal decision-making and budgets and, if necessary, the feared process of treaty reform. Whether the member states will embrace that worthy ambition is most uncertain.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Concrete steps for Ukraine’s accession

Von der Leyen is staying her course on Ukraine’s EU accession, comments Rzeczpospolita:

“Unlike last year, this time von der Leyen was not dressed in yellow and blue, the colours of the Ukrainian flag. Nevertheless she remains a great proponent of the country’s EU accession. She acknowledged that Ukraine has made significant progress towards the opening of accession negotiations. And she announced that the EU would now prepare for enlargement, and that the treaties wouldn’t even need to be changed for this. She said that Brussels should present concrete proposals for changes in EU policy that will enable an EU of more than 30 countries to function smoothly. And that is far more important to Kyiv than a blue blouse and a yellow jacket.”

Anna Słojewska
Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Every bit a global player

The EU is undergoing a lasting transformation, Helsingin Sanomat comments:

“The Russian war of aggression has forced the EU to take steps to offset the consequences of past failures. As a result of the war, the European Union has shifted its focus to security issues. At the same time, it has faced up to its own weaknesses and the gap between words and deeds. ... At the start of her term, von der Leyen said that her Commission would be a geopolitical one. And it has been. The EU has responded more strongly and strategically to an increasingly complex geopolitical situation and external crises. ... But the change is ongoing, and protectionist aspirations are also making themselves felt.”

Salzburger Nachrichten (AT) /

Don’t forget the citizens on this journey

Von der Leyen has no solutions for the real problems of many people in the EU, criticise the Salzburger Nachrichten:

“Why is von der Leyen creating this vision of the great, final EU enlargement to the East? For geopolitical reasons. It’s a matter of strengthening Ukraine’s will to persevere in its defence against Russian aggression. ... What von der Leyen forgets is that for her vision of an even larger Europe, she must take the citizens of the EU-27 with her on the journey. And for their very concrete concerns and needs — inflation, energy prices, prospects for the young — there is surprisingly little in terms of concrete steps in her programme.”

Sylvia Wörgetter
Mediapart (FR) /

Smoothing ruffled feathers for re-election

It seems von der Leyen’s primary concern was to remain head of the EU Commission, observes Mediapart:

“While she appeared to be on the same page as the majority of the parliament on Ukraine, the rest of her speech was less well received. She was particularly keen to curry favour with her political family, the European People’s Party (EPP), because there have been tensions for months. She has been trying to pick up the pieces in the hope of remaining at the helm of the Commission after 2024.”

Ludovic Lamant