[WATCH] Von der Leyen calls for EU expansion to 'complete our union'

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers the annual State of the Union speech, as her administration looks back on four years in office ahead of the European elections next year

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen

“History is calling on us to complete our union,” President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen stated during her annual State of the Union speech, as she called for further EU enlargement and “political deepening.”

While addressing the bloc, von der Leyen highlighted a number of the EU’s successes during her tenure, as well as the challenges overcome, and those which the bloc still faces.

European Parliament Elections

Starting off her State of the Union Speech, President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen wasted no time in mentioning the European Parliament elections which will take place across the EU in the coming months.

President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen with European Parliament President Roberta Metsola

Von der Leyen stated that when that time comes, millions of new young voters, the youngest of them were born in 2008, will think about a number of challenges that the EU faces. The war in Ukraine, climate change, AI’s influence on everyday life and the labour and housing market are among the pressing issues youths will ponder in the polling booths, von der Leyen said.

This is why, the Commission’s President noted, “in a world of uncertainty, Europe must answer the call of history.” In a reflection on her tenure, von der Leyen mentioned the EU’s firm stand against Russian aggression within the continent, the bloc’s response to “an assertive China,” as well as the birth of a geopolitical union within the continent.

The Green Deal

The President of the Commission underlined the importance of the Green Deal, making reference to the natural disasters hitting the continent, notably Spain and Greece’s wildfires, followed by disastrous flooding, as well as extreme weather across Europe. “This is the reality of a boiling planet,” von der Leyen said while noting that the Green Deal has already started showing its fruits in the short-term. This deal, she stated, proves that modernisation and decarbonisation do go hand in hand.

Despite the Green Deal’s challenges, von der Leyen noted that it has brought about great opportunities for clean investment, saying that the bloc has attracted more investment in clean hydrogen than China and the United States combined.

“As we enter the next phase of the Green Deal,” she stated, “we will keep supporting industry through this transition,” while highlighting that the transition must be fair and just.

Trumping China’s threat to fair competition

Von der Leyen announced that the European Commission will be launching an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China. She noted that in light of what she described as unfair state subsidies from China, the European market for electric vehicles has been saturated by “cheap Chinese electric vehicles.”

The investigation is another step in Europe's transition away from being the greatest free trade bloc in the world and towards fortifying its trade defences in the era of deglobalization.

The Commission’s President stated that despite this, “We are open for competition, but not for a race to the bottom.” Von der Leyen noted that the investigation, as well as other actions with regards to China does not mean that cooperation with China will end abruptly.

This, she said, will be in line with the EU’s policy of “de-risk not de-couple,” ahead of talks with China scheduled for later this year.

Calls to closely monitor AI

Ursula von der Leyen likened the risk of rapid development of artificial intelligence to the nuclear war and climate change, as a factor that puts humanity closer to extinction.

Despite this, she acknowledged AI’s benefits which the EU can capitalize on, notably in improving healthcare and mitigating climate change.

The Commission’s President recommended called for the creation of a new organisation, akin to the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, with scientists, big tech companies, and independent experts all around the table in order for the EU to take the lead on a new global framework for AI.


Von der Leyen has called for increased resources in order to combat human traffickers, saying “It’s time to put an end to this criminal business.” She called for the revamping of antiquated legislation regarding human smugglers.

“We need stronger law enforcement, prosecution and a more prominent role for our agencies – Europol, Eurojust, and Frontex,” the Commission’s President said, while calling for increased cooperation with the EU’s partners.

Von der Leyen stated that the Commission is to organise an international conference on fighting people smuggling in order to combat the “global plague of human trafficking.”

The war in Ukraine

In an emotional moment of von der Leyen's speech, she gave homage to Ukrainian author Victoria Amelina, who was killed in a Russian missile attack while she was writing about war crimes in her own nation.

Hector Abad, a Colombian author and friend who was present during the attack but lived, was present during the speech. Abad held up a picture of Amelina in the air as cheers erupted.

This moment lead von der Leyen to address the war in Ukraine, pledging the EU’s support for Ukraine “for as long as it takes.” The Commission’s President addressed the four million Ukrainian refugees who were welcomed into the EU, saying that they are as welcome now as they were in the first weeks of the invasion.

Here, she announced that the Commission aims to extend temporary protection to Ukrainians in the EU.

Enlargement is the future

Von der Leyen stated that the future of Ukraine, the Western Balkans, and Moldova is within the European Union but that the expansion process will not be simple.

The Commission will examine how enlargement could influence its core policies while the EU works to modify its treaties to accommodate new member nations, she added.

In opposition to those who believe the EU cannot function with more than 30 members, Von der Leyen listed the bloc’s achievements with 27 member states, including the creation of a Health Union and the European Defence Union.

Regarding Europe's response to Russia's war in Ukraine, she claims that the EU demonstrated that it can be a Geopolitical Union and showed it can move quickly when the EU is united.

To pave the way for enlargement, von der Leyen stated that the Commission is to work on a series of pre-enlargement policy reviews in order to determine how each area may need to change in a larger EU.

The Commission President concludes, "So it is time for Europe to once again think big and write our own destiny!”

Prime Minister Robert Abela reacts to address

Reacting to the Commission president’s address, Prime Minister Robert Abela said it was a “truly commendable” speech especially on Mediterranean issues and beneficial partnership with Africa.

“We will continue to foster this policy of active engagement with Med countries in two weeks’ time during the EUMED9,” he said.

Arnold Cassola reaction

Reacting to the speech, independent candidate Arnold Cassola said the speech was a positive one.

“But the distance and gap between speeches denoting political vision and pragmatic reality is still enormous. Here are my comments, always seen from the perspective of Maltese citizens and/or residents,” he said.

On cost of living, he said the EU should seriously embark on Collective Procurement, on the covid vaccine and gas buying model, when it comes to basic daily life necessities, such as grain and medicines.

Cassola said it is laudable that measures are taken for the decarbonization of industry. “However, in the field of air transport, the possibility of free and affordable means of air travel for islands surrounded by the sea and far from the mainland should be maintained.”

“Whilst a carbon tax on airline fuel can contribute to decarbonization, there should be a derogation for such islands: the airline tax should only be limited to private planes. Scheduled commercial flights should be exempt from such tax, at least for the foreseeable future,” he said.

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This article is part of a content series called Ewropej. This is a multi-newsroom initiative part-funded by the European Parliament to bring the work of the EP closer to the citizens of Malta and keep them informed about matters that affect their daily lives. This article reflects only the author’s view. The action was co-financed by the European Union in the frame of the European Parliament's grant programme in the field of communication. The European Parliament was not involved in its preparation and is, in no case, responsible for or bound by the information or opinions expressed in the context of this action. In accordance with applicable law, the authors, interviewed people, publishers or programme broadcasters are solely responsible. The European Parliament can also not be held liable for direct or indirect damage that may result from the implementation of the action.

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