The Brussels Times: Von der Leyen goes soul-searching as she seeks a global role for the EU

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen went soul-searching in her second State of the Union speech on Wednesday.

This wasn’t her making a joke about the half-empty European Parliament chamber in Strasbourg, but rather a deep-felt reflection on the nature of the EU, which has been tested like never before. Her conclusion? “As I look back on this past year, if I look at the state of the Union today, I see a strong soul in everything that we do.”

Mrs von der Leyen’s tone was focused on the political and high-level questions, sparing the audience the tiny details. She underlined common values and sought out opportunities for the bloc while touching on topical issues.

She mentioned most of the main suspects, with the pandemic naturally coming first. Here, Mrs von der Leyen patted the EU on the back for its response, including its vaccine rollout. From there she moved on to the economy and the importance of digitalisation, which she called a “make-or-break issue”. She then spoke on social issues, climate, world affairs-, defence and migration, before finishing her speech on the European values.

It was one of Mrs von der Leyen’s better speeches, with some memorable language. I felt that the strongest thread was on the EU´s global role. She was ready to look outwards at the EU’s relations with the rest of the world – even if it meant cutting any references to domestic issues from the speech. She did not mention agriculture and regional policies at all, although the two areas account for roughly two thirds of the EU´s actual budget.

Read the op-ed by our Director of EU Public Affairs Tatu Liimatainen on the Brussels Times, published on September 18, 2021.