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Von der Leyen to soothe EPP concerns in annual address

Von der Leyen to soothe EPP concerns in annual address

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STRASBOURG — European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen will use her Wednesday morning keynote speech to MEPs to reassure her center-right political party she hears the concerns about the EU’s direction when it comes to climate and migration policy. 

As next year’s EU election draws closer, von der Leyen will use the handbrake on fresh legislation and announce a focus on EU policies’ impact on business and people, according to a senior Commission official who was granted anonymity to speak freely.

Her State of the European Union speech — which could run to over one hour in English, French and German — will usher in a new “implementation phase” of the Green Deal, while pointing vigorously to her main achievements during a crisis-ridden four years. She plans to emphasize the benefits of the Green Deal to industry, a key concern of some businesses across Europe dealing with soaring energy and input costs, “to make sure that the implementation phase is done in the most collaborative way we can imagine.” 

Von der Leyen tasked the EU’s new Green Deal czar Maroš Šefčovič with talking to businesses and citizens about the impact of the EU’s green agenda.

According to the official, von der Leyen will name-check farmers, one of EPP’s target constituencies, who have raised concerns about the EU’s climate policy. She will draw attention to the farming community’s role in food security and safety and stress the importance of biodiversity.

Von der Leyen, though widely perceived to be one of the most powerful Commission presidents, has come under pressure from center-right political heavyweights in recent months, led by fellow German Manfred Weber, particularly over the EU’s climate and environment policy as business costs rise.

With less than a year until the European election, von der Leyen will require the center-right EPP’s support if she wants another five-year term at the head of the EU executive arm.

But one thing she won’t do: confirm if she’s running for a second term. The official was categorical that von der Leyen will not address mounting speculation about seeking a second term at the helm of the Commission, nor will she address a run as a lead candidate or Spitzenkandidat

Wednesday’s speech also is expected to go heavy on the subject of migration, with von der Leyen calling for the swift adoption of the migration pact before the election. She will also tout the recently agreed deal with Tunisia — which has been criticized by progressive politicians in Parliament and human rights groups — as a possible template for dealing with migration pressures. 

On Ukraine, von der Leyen will reiterate the EU’s support for Ukraine as it defends itself against Russia. But she will also call for the EU to think about how the enlargement process will work — and how it should get ready internally to accept new members — as member countries mull allowing Ukraine to join the bloc. 

Jacopo Barigazzi contributed reporting. 

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