State of the Union: what does Von der Leyen want with Green Deal and expansion

David SASSOLI - EP President meets with Ursula VON DER LEYEN - EU Commission President-elect at the EP in Brussels

This week, European capitals are awaiting the annual speech by President Ursula von der Leyen with more than average interest. She will give her annual State of the Union speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday, the last of the current committee's term. 

The big questions at the moment are: do we stick to the Green Deal, including adjustments in agriculture, how to deal with obstructive Poland and a solo Polish agricultural commissioner, and what to do with the ten hopeful aspiring EU countries? 

There is currently a lot of speculation about this, barely nine months before the European elections and about a year and a half before the composition of a new Commissioners team. Von der Leyen would like to be reappointed, but will have to emerge unscathed from the battle over the next year and a half. 

Opinions vary, but almost iedereen agrees that her speech will close the cycle she started when she was appointed in December 2019 by unfolding the Green Deal philosophy.

Although that mission has been virtually completed theoretically and legally by her then right-hand man and first vice-chairman Frans Timmermans, many issues of agriculture and biodiversity are still far from being achieved. Moreover, it has also become political dynamite.

Ursula von der Leyen is faced with a choice: stick to the ambitious Green Deal objectives or factor in reductions. Several interest groups have already urged to maintain the ban on the use of glyphosate. They also ask that the planned modernization of the EU rules for animal welfare not be postponed.

The influential European agricultural umbrella organization Copa-Cosega, on the other hand, has already urged adjustments. “We need a European Union that moves away from dogmatism and starts talking to rural communities again.

Crucial issues are still on the table, whether it concerns crop protection, new genomic techniques, animal welfare, sustainable food systems or the conclusion of negotiations on the restoration of nature or industrial emissions. It is for these reasons that European agriculture and forestry cannot be left out of the State of the Union address!” said Copa-Cosega.

In addition, the current Commission will in any case have to say something about the much-needed (previously promised!) reforms of EU procedures, powers and tasks. This is already urgently needed with the current 27 Member States; let alone if five or ten newcomers are admitted. 

From a recent comment by EU chairman Charles Michel, it can be deduced that some heads of state and government believe that the EU should be ready for this by 2030. This does mean that the new committee (2024-2029) only has to prepare it, and that the very last decision only has to be made in the period afterwards.