State of the Union speech in Strasbourg: The woman of big, vague words

In her speech, Commission President von der Leyen showed solidarity with Ukraine. However, how the war is to continue remains an open question.

Ursula von der Leyen seen from above in a yellow jacket, standing at the lectern with her arms outstretched

Big gesture, right colors - Ursula von der Leyen gives her speech in front of the European Parliament Photo: Photo: Frederick Florin/dpa

BRUSSELS taz | Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had announced a major speech on the "state of the European Union". It was supposed to be about the energy crisis and people's fears in this fall of war, and many hopes were attached to the appearance in the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday.

But then everything revolved around Ukraine. Olena Selenska, the first lady from Kyiv, sat in the first row, she had come specially. Then came von der Leyen: She was demonstratively dressed in the Ukrainian national colors: a yellow blazer on a blue blouse. Blue and yellow is then also their speech. "Never before has the state of our Union been debated in this House while war is raging on European soil," said the CDU politician. "Slava Ukraini" - Glory to Ukraine - she proclaims at a central point.

Von der Leyen will address the Ukraine no fewer than 28 times on this day, it is the lynchpin of her 57-minute presentation. But those who expected big news will be disappointed. Ukrainians should soon no longer have to pay roaming charges for cell phones and have better access to the internal market, that's it.

Otherwise: Nothing new in the East. No new weapons, no further sanctions, not even a diplomatic initiative, which would finally be conceivable in view of the Ukrainian advance. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) sets to a negotiated solution, von der Leyen apparently not. "This is the time for us to demonstrate determination and not appeasement," said the former defense secretary. Europe has stood by Ukraine since day one and will continue to do so. "Putin will fail, Ukraine and Europe will prevail."

The applause is moderate. It doesn't get any bigger when the President of the Commission finally turns to the issues that are probably burning on the nails of the people in the EU. shall we be healed come through fall and winter, how should we pay the electricity and gas bill? And what is Brussels doing specifically for us? Von der Leyen avoids these uncomfortable questions. She flees into high politics - and first attacks Kremlin boss Vladimir Putin. He is waging an “energy war” against Europe and manipulating the market. That's the only reason there are problems. She cannot recognize her own shortcomings.

slept through the summer

The EU has been discussing this for a year now exploding gas and electricity prices. Council President Charles Michel complains that the EU Commission reacted much too late to the skyrocketing prices. "We slept through the summer," criticized even the head of the conservative EPP group in the European Parliament, Manfred Weber.

But now suddenly everything has to happen very quickly. The planned skimming off of the profits of electricity producers will bring in “more than 140 billion euros” for the member states, says the Commission President. The money will “benefit those who need it most”.

However, how this is to be done remains an open question. The energy ministers have to decide on this at a crisis meeting at the end of September. The last meeting last Friday ended without any tangible results. After that, von der Leyen dropped her most radical proposal – a price cap for Russian gas. He did not find a majority.

Less competitiveness

Now she's trying non-binding suggestions that please everyone and don't hurt anyone. In the crisis, the winners of the crisis should also be asked to pay, she said. This is a requirement of the social market economy. It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to get the EU through the crisis. The unions are skeptical.

Now it is a matter of converting the "warm words" into concrete protection for employees, said the head of the European Trade Union Confederation, Luca Visentini. The President of the Commission did not once mention wages. People are running away from the cost of living. Companies are also worried. Because of the exploding energy costs, they are rapidly losing their competitiveness, and some companies are threatened with extinction. But again deviates from the Leyen. "The coming months will not be easy," she admits. However, direct aid is not planned.

Instead, von der Leyen vowed to reduce bureaucracy – an ongoing issue that Edmund Stoiber (CSU) has already dealt with in Brussels. She also announces a "year of training and further education" - even in German, so that employers in Berlin or Munich can understand it better.

After that it got colorful and arbitrary. Von der Leyen paid tribute to Queen Elizabeth ("a legend"), lamented the end of the old world order and announced a new foreign policy based on Western values. In the future, we will work more with like-minded partners and become more independent of China.

She also promised to admit the states of the Western Balkans as well as Moldova and Ukraine to the EU: "Without you, our Union is not complete." This closed the circle, at least from the point of view of the EU President. In the evening she traveled to Kyiv to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to discuss future, even closer cooperation. However, it will not be able to solve the EU's problems there. "Von der Leyen underestimates the social problems," criticized the SPD European politician Jens Geier after the speech in Strasbourg. "We miss action in enforcing the rule of law," said Ska Keller from the Greens.

Hungary and Poland in particular repeatedly disregard democracy and the rule of law. But von der Leyen did not mention these countries at all in her speech. Apparently it was easier for her to talk about Ukraine than about the problems on her own doorstep.

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