Ursula von der leyen

The problem with the EU’s messianic treatment of Poland

Mateusz Morawiecki insists his government does not want to take Poland out of the EU. ‘Eighty-eight per cent of Poles are in favour of EU membership and half of these are our (Law and Justice party) voters,’ the Polish Prime Minister told the European Parliament in Strasbourg this week. But Morawiecki didn’t exactly seem committed to the EU on Tuesday when he locked horns in a fiery debate with the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen over Poland’s challenge to the bloc’s legal order. With Morawiecki refusing to back down and von der Leyen assuring MEPs that Brussels would move against controversial Polish legal reforms, it seemed, more than

Von der Leyen is the real winner of the German elections

The bald guy who leads the Social Democrats. The earnest looking Green lady. Or perhaps the guy in the charcoal-grey suit who leads the oddly named Free Democrats — free from what exactly? — who may end up picking the next chancellor. Lots of commentators will argue for a long time about who is the real winner of the German elections. But in fact there can be no real dispute about who has come out in a far stronger position. The President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. A power vacuum in Berlin will be filled by a hyper-active, ambitious Commission There are two reasons for this. First,

Why is the EU attending the butcher of Tehran’s inauguration?

At the beginning of the year Donald Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, was forced to hastily cancel a diplomatic trip to Europe, reportedly after top EU officials refused to meet with him following the storming of the US Capitol building. In the aftermath of the event, Luxembourg’s foreign minister suggested that Trump was a ‘political pyromaniac’ and Pompeo soon found that the United States was no longer a welcome presence in the hallowed halls of Brussels. If that was how the European Union admonished America – arguably the most important democracy in the world – one can only imagine the treatment it planned to dole out to the world’s

Watch: von der Leyen’s vaccine amnesia

How well has the EU dealt with the pandemic? According to Ursula von der Leyen, the bloc’s performance has been world beating. In an address yesterday, the Commission president lauded her own performance while claiming that the EU had proven its detractors wrong. During her so-called ‘state of the union’, she said: We all heard the nagging questions, especially in the first months of this pandemic: aren’t nation states better equipped to fight this crisis? Isn’t our union of 27 too slow to react? And our processes too cumbersome and our stakeholders too diverse? Today I am here to say: Europe has proven these claims wrong…Most importantly we decided to procure vaccines

Why is Ursula von der Leyen still talking about Sofagate?

Almost a month has passed since the now infamous ‘sofa-gate’ incident where, during a meeting with Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan, Ursula von der Leyen was not provided with a chair. Instead she was forced to sit on a nearby sofa. And yet it is this event – rather than Europe’s ongoing vaccine woes – that seems to be at the forefront of the president of the European Commission’s thoughts. Von der Leyen used a speech given to the European Parliament to reiterate accusations of sexism over sofa-gate. The president did everything she could to drive home her feminist message, concluding that:  ‘I am the president of the European commission. And this

Von der Leyen’s latest diplomatic faux pas

Ursula von der Leyen isn’t particularly keen on diplomatic protocol. Earlier this year, in a bid to get EU hands on British bound vaccines, the Commission announced its intention to implement a hard Northern Irish border — without bothering to tell either Dublin or Belfast. (Naturally, that fit of international irreverence was blamed on a Brussels subordinate).  Then we had sofagate, which overshadowed what should have been a show of European strength in the face of Turkish President Erdogan. VdL instead decided to take the opportunity to make a fuss about a chair being offered to a man — despite Council President Charles Michel’s superiority to her in the EU’s order of precedence.  Now the haughty

UK summons EU officials over ‘false’ vaccine claims

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has blasted claims by a senior Eurocrat that the UK is hampering the bloc’s vaccine rollout, calling the questionable assertions ‘completely false’. Charles Michel, president of the European Council, initially argued that Britain had imposed an ‘outright ban on the export of vaccines or vaccine components’ leaving the country in an EU blog on Tuesday. (Michel then subtly soften his claim after commentators pointed out there was no such ‘outright ban’, instead he said there were ‘different ways of imposing bans or restrictions on vaccines’.) But London was having none of it. Raab came out fighting on Tuesday night, insisting that ‘any references to a UK export ban or any restrictions

From bread to Kate Bingham: the evolution of ‘nimble’

‘I’ll stick to being Brazilian,’ said my husband. It was a family joke. Every time a politician on the radio says resilient, the first to shout out Brazilian wins. I haven’t yet discovered what the prize is, though we have been playing the game since 2014, when I wrote about resilience here. My husband may be resilient, even robust (another political watchword), but the newest favourite is nimble, and I don’t think he’s up to that. Ursula von der Leyen called Britain ‘a nimble speedboat’ in its vaccine provision. Actually, though she did say speedboat, I think nimble was supplied by the Sun. Kate Bingham, heroine of the vaccine campaign

Von der Leyen has learnt nothing from the EU’s vaccine fiasco

As non-apology apologies go, it was right up there with the best of them. Speaking to MEPs today, the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen accepted that some ‘mistakes had been made’ in the procurement of vaccines against Covid-19.  Apparently the Commission had been a little too late authorising some of the shots, it had been a tad too optimistic about production, and not everything had gone according to plan. But, heck, these things happen, she went on to argue. And perhaps most crucially of all, the alternative would have been far, far worse.  ‘I can’t even imagine if a few big players had rushed to it

What the EU still doesn’t understand about Britain’s vaccine strategy

Since the outrage caused last Friday, when the European Union looked set to undermine the Northern Ireland protocol less than one month after the Brexit deal came into force, there has been little apology from those in charge. This is not terribly surprising: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has a reputation for passing the buck whenever possible. It’s also thought that last week’s mistakes are particularly hard for the EU to grapple with: desperate to prove Brexit was a mistake, it has been difficult for Brussels to watch Britain’s reputation for handling the Covid crisis change so quickly for the better. Yesterday we got a hint of acknowledgement

The disconnect of Davos Man

You may have missed Ursula von der Leyen’s big speech at Davos last week. Most people did. Perhaps because Davos was a more low-key affair than normal this year. Ordinarily the annual summit of the World Economic Forum allows various world leaders to jet into the Swiss Alps in order to lecture the rest of us on the virtues of zero carbon. But this year the head of the Forum — Klaus Schwab — greeted his guests virtually and alone. Welcoming the President of the European Commission down the line, the two reminisced about last year’s summit and such pleasures as being lectured by Greta Thunberg. Although they tried to

Ursula von der Leyen has always left a trail of disaster

The German Army had to join a NATO exercise with broomsticks because they didn’t have any rifles. It’s special forces became a hotbed for right-wing extremism. Working mothers were meant to get federally-funded childcare, to help fix the country’s demographic collapse, but it never arrived, and the birth rate carried on falling. Every child was supposed to get a hot lunch at school every day, but somehow or other it didn’t quite happen. There is a common thread running through the career of Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission. A series of catastrophic misjudgements, and a failure to deliver. In a brutal examination of her record

The EU is blaming everyone but itself for its vaccine debacle

Something has gone badly wrong with the EU’s rollout of the Covid vaccine. Yet in its response to this debacle, Brussels seems determined to double down, engaging in behaviour of the pettiest kind as it blames everyone but itself for what has happened. ‘The companies must deliver’, Ursula von der Leyen, the EU commission’s president said this week, as she announced the launch of a ‘vaccine export transparency mechanism’. In reality, this plan to oblige companies to notify the commission when vaccines leave the EU (into Britain, for example) is an attempt to pile pressure on the pharmaceutical firms who have given us the only way out of the situation we find ourselves in.

The EU is taking a gamble with China

It took Brussels and Beijing seven years to agree an investment deal. A deal that, until its conclusion a few days ago, had been largely eclipsed by the Brexit process. Once the negotiations had concluded, however, the European side suddenly came under intense criticism — China, detractors said, was not the sort of country the EU should be cosying up to. That the deal was finalised on the penultimate day of the year was a sure sign that Angela Merkel was pushing for closure. She had stated before the pandemic that advancing EU-China relations would be one of the goals of Germany’s EU Council presidency (now passed on to Portugal).

At last: we have a Brexit deal

Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen have both confirmed that we have a deal: one with zero tariffs, zero quotas. The details are not yet published, but several details are now being reported. What follows is a summary of those reports and rumours: we should soon have 2,000 pages of chapter and verse. The upshot: it’s Brexit. No single market, no free movement, no role for the European Court of Justice, no quotas, no tariffs. At least in goods: there won’t be much in the deal for the services sector (plus ça change) but more on co-operation over terrorism, security and preserving the cross-border energy market. From the looks of it, the UK has

Fishing could sink the Brexit negotiations

Throughout the Brexit talks it has been declared that the deal wouldn’t fall over fish. But that is now looking increasingly likely. The two sides remain far apart on the subject and time is running short. Fishing is not the only issue, there are still some disagreements over the Commission’s desire to exempt itself and the European Investment Bank from the subsidy control provisions of the agreement when the UK would have no such carve out. But fish is the most problematic area. Johnson is prepared to leave without a deal over the fishing issue The EU, as Michel Barnier made clear this morning, are insisting on an fisheries transition

Ursula von der Leyen’s tricky Brexit negotiation

It was always going to be the case that a Brexit deal would require an intervention from Boris Johnson and the Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. But today’s conversation between the pair is going to have to do more work than either side would have liked. Rather than nudging a deal over the line, this phone call is going to have to give the talks a proper shove. Von der Leyen has the more difficult task today. Johnson is speaking on his own behalf, von der Leyen is speaking for 27 governments, including one – France – that is publicly threatening to veto any deal it doesn’t like. But

Brexit talks go down to the wire

After the past few years, it is hard to take Brexit deadlines seriously; they have a tendency to always slide to the right. But Sunday night/Monday morning really is the final deadline, as I say in the Times this morning. There are two reasons for this. First, the Internal Market Bill and the Finance Bill are in the Commons on Monday and Tuesday respectively. Both of these bills override parts of the withdrawal agreement, and in particular the Northern Ireland protocol. The EU would fiercely object, complaining the UK was breaking its obligations under international law and pointing to how the government had itself admitted it was a ‘specific and

Is no deal better than a bad deal? We’re about to find out

Has a Brexit deal already been done? You’d be forgiven for thinking so if, like me, you listened to talk radio over the weekend. Much of the discussion on Brexit now focuses on whether or not Labour will vote for or against, or even abstain on the ‘deal’. What deal? In reality there is, of course, yet to be a trade agreement between the UK and the European Union and it actually looks fairly unlikely at this stage. The clock is ticking, but still the assumption remains that either side will fold before the year is out. I’m not convinced. At the end of last week, an offer was made by the

Le crunch: are the Brexit talks doomed before they begin?

When Boris Johnson and the new European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met in Downing Street last month, they agreed on one thing immediately: that it was time to stop the sniping, animosity and backbiting that had characterised the first round of the Brexit talks. The Prime Minister emphasised that Britain wanted to be the EU’s close friend and ally. Only a few weeks later, and already the Brexit wars are back. The two sides are so far apart that many diplomats think there is a better-than-even chance that the talks will fail. One member state is already planning around the central assumption that there will be no deal