Ursula von der Leyen: The almost perfect speech
It seems that the possible new EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has taken her chance. But her appearance in Strasbourg has a big flaw.
The European Parliament in Strasbourg is not a particularly beautiful building: the architects have used a lot of glass, metal and concrete in the roundish house. For some citizens of the European Union, the building of the most democratic of the three EU institutions therefore looks like a UFO, as if from heaven, here in the Franco-German border region. For Ursula von der Leyen, the building is today the place that determines her professional future. All or nothing. Either she will be elected as the new President of the EU Commission in the evening or she will face the void.
When she enters the main hall of parliament in the morning, she has only one chance. The power of their words, transmitted via TV and the Internet across Europe, must today convince a majority of the more than 700 delegates present and make them forget the doubts about their strange nomination. In order to achieve the most powerful office of her career, she must now give the speech of her life.
Can she do that?
Ursula von der Leyen rises from the place with the number 21. Sometimes she speaks in French, sometimes in English and sometimes in her mother tongue. Jean-Claude Juncker, too, naturally switched between the three European languages. But to speak of the Leyens way is different. The German minister uses her entire 1.60-meter body length to talk. Sometimes she opens her arms as if she wants to hug the entire hall. Sometimes - at particularly important points of her speech - she clenches her fist.
There are some of these passages. The woman, who in this country was already family, work and, most recently, Minister of Defense, finds the right mix of emotions and political content on this day. It makes concrete promises: the banking union should be implemented, a kind of European unemployment insurance should come. It wants to introduce a childrens guarantee, an EU-wide right of minors to good care, and wants to introduce a carbon tax. She becomes personally: "The generation of my children can no longer imagine a life without a sense of home in Europe," she says with reference to her seven children and the many young Europeans who had contributed to the high turnout in the European elections a few weeks ago ,
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In her speech, she speaks several times about her father. It is thanks to her that she was born in Brussels, in the heart of the EU. He told her how "peaceful Europe arose out of the rubble and the ashes of the world wars". And thanks to him, she learned in a private environment how it felt when the various representatives of European countries joined hands after the crimes of the Nazis Germany. "Friends do not shoot each other," she says, and many MPs applaud, even those from parties that do not support her candidacy.
There are sentences like these, with which of the Leyen in particular, the members of the Social Democrats and the Liberals want to convince. She says she will do more to tackle violence against women, not compromise on the rule of law of the EU and "propose a green deal". She confidently promises to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent in the world. That sounds good, so good that even the members of the Greens clap.
And then she talks about a man. He was 19 years old when he fled Syria when he met her, Ursula von der Leyen, four years ago in Germany. The politician does not give his name, but she tells how proud she is of him. After her family took him home in 2015, he learned German and English, found a job and became integrated into German society. After his experiences in the EU he would eventually go back to his homeland to Syria, told by the Leyen - and shows how closely her own life is currently connected with perhaps the biggest European question: the question of how Europe a good deal can find with the refugees.
Von der Leyen plays "Make a wish"
The refugee policy and the Dublin rules need to be reformed, she says. And promises to do exactly that. From time to time, it seems that a woman is talking about her long-awaited dream job. Forgotten it seems that three weeks ago she herself did not know that the office could become the President of the Commission.
She needs 374 votes at 6 pm from Members of Parliament. For this to work, she comes to the end of her speech to the three most important points of her agenda. First, from 2020, she wants to organize a "Conference on the Future of the EU" for all Europeans for two years. Secondly, she wants to reform the electoral system, reintroduce transnational election lists and the top candidate principle. And thirdly, it wants to give Parliament the right to propose new laws.
Much more is not possible. You can hardly promise much more - and that is already the biggest blemish that clings to her performance. It's a bit "Make a wish", what your audience wants to hear gets it too. Hard to imagine, that this roundabout, presented by the Leyen actually can be implemented in this way. And yet. Even the Greens MP Sven Giegold says directly afterwards: "The speech was good." Seems as if Ursula von der Leyen had used the one chance she had. It was an almost perfect speech.