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New European Commission approved by MEPs

Ursula von der Leyen - Image credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

New European Commission approved by MEPs

The incoming European Commission led by Ursula von der Leyen has been given the green light by MEPs after a key vote in Strasbourg.

MEPs approved the new European Commission on Wednesday by 461 votes for to 157 against, with 89 abstentions.

Von der Leyen, who is the European Commission’s first ever female president, will take office with her team of commissioners on 1 December, formally kicking off their 2019-2024 programme.

Under the auspices of von der Leyen, who has made gender equality one of her priorities, female representation in the European Commission is the highest it has ever been.

In addition to the president-elect, the current composition of the Commission comprises 11 female members and 15 male members.

In the run-up to the vote, von der Leyen highlighted climate action as a key priority and called for a transition towards climate neutrality by mid-century.

Addressing MEPs, she said: “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.

“How can it not be existential when 85 percent of people in extreme poverty live in the 20 countries most vulnerable to climate change?

“How can it not be existential when we see Venice under water, Portugal's forests on fire, or Lithuania's harvests cut by half because of droughts?

“This has happened before but never with the same frequency or intensity.”

She added, “We do not have a moment to waste.

“The faster Europe moves, the greater the advantage will be for our citizens, our competitiveness and our prosperity.”

The European Green Deal, a flagship policy of the von der Leyen commission, must work “for the health of our planet and our people and for our economy,” she said.

She added that Dutch official Frans Timmermans was “the right person to make this happen.”

After several of her team were rejected by the European Parliament, the green light from MEPs means her Commission can now make a delayed start to its work.

She acknowledged in her speech that she takes the reins of the Commission after a turbulent few years for the EU, which has had to handle a series of major challenges ranging from the eurozone crisis and migration to Brexit and a surge in support for eurosceptic political parties.

She said: “In the last years, we had to focus on the here-and-now, managing crises after emergency, fighting to keep our unity and solidarity intact.

“If we have emerged stronger in that time – and I believe we have – it is in great part thanks to the leadership and the conviction of my predecessor.”

She described her predecessor, Jean-Claude Juncker, as “a great European,” who “has devoted his heart, his soul and his life to our Union and his legacy speaks for itself.”

Later on Wednesday, in a news briefing with parliament’s president, David Sassoli, von der Leyen reiterated many of the commitments she made in her speech.

She highlighted that appropriate investment and regulatory frameworks will be put into place for Europe to lead the way internationally on a range of what she called “critical issues,” which include environmental protection and climate change, growth, inclusion, innovation and digitalisation, and the protection of democracy.

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