Editorial | Needed: a nimble, more relevant Europe

Bar a few awkward choices that may cause some problems with MEPs, Von der Leyen is likely to get her way


It has taken the European Union a decade of austerity to start recovering from the 2008 economic crisis, albeit progress has been slow and disparate.

The EU did react to the crisis, and the subsequent financial crash caused by large banks that went under.

Supported by a European Central Bank that forced interest rates down to stimulate the economy, the outgoing Juncker commission made available millions in infrastructural funds to help bolster job-creating investment in projects of European interest.

But the ravages of that crisis can still be felt in different communities across the bloc of 28 nations (soon to become 27) where youth unemployment remains stubbornly high and incomes depressed.

Many European citizens have lost hope, pushing them towards populist, far-right parties that spout a dangerous rhetoric that seeks to blame the malaise on migrants.

On the world stage, the EU is sandwiched between the increasingly insular US, led by an unpredictable president, to the west, and China on the east that flaunts its economic strength by exercising soft power.

In face of this, the EU remains slow to react and reluctant to lead.

What the EU lacks in military clout, it can easily make up for through economic strength and influence. But to do so, the EU must become nimbler and more relevant internationally.

It has to embrace technological advancement, not fear it. It has to regulate for progress rather then put up barriers to change.

The EU is often seen as being too bureaucratic. The bloc thrives on red tape, which is partially a consequence of trying to coordinate policy initiatives that are satisfactory to 28 different countries, each with their own culture and pace of development.

Within this context, European Commission President-elect Ursula von der Leyen’s statements last Tuesday when announcing the portfolios of her commission provide for some encouraging change.

“We have a structure that focuses on tasks, not hierarchies… We need to be able to deliver on the issues that matter the most, rapidly and with determination,” she told reporters in Brussels.

Von der Leyen continued: “I want this European Commission to be a flexible, modern, agile Commission.”

These were ambitious words that also came packaged in funny portfolio names such as, “Protecting Our European Way Of Life”, and “Europe Fit For The Digital Age”.

How these words will translate into improving the lives of Europeans still has to be seen. She enjoys the advantage of having a well-balanced geopolitical team – her three senior vice presidents come from the three mainstream political families and the power structure appears geographically balanced between north and south, west and east.

The latter is important to ensure that no group of countries within the EU feels ostracised.

The new commission still requires approval from the European Parliament as commissioner-designates face grilling sessions at the hands of MEPs.

Bar a few awkward choices that may cause some problems with MEPs, Von der Leyen is likely to get her way.

The real stumbling block could be convincing individual governments to toe the same line in a post-Brexit EU that will continue to be tested by populists within and global super powers without.

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