EU Commission President Calls on Member Nations for Unity

In a wide-ranging speech, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen Wednesday presented her vision for a new European Union emerging from the coronavirus crisis, on-going Brexit negotiations, and conflicts over equality.Speaking to members of the European Parliament in Brussels in her state of the EU address, von der Leyen said the bloc must get better at responding to events unfolding around the world.Once able to boast of a “soft power” that helped transform communist neighbors into market economies, the EU increasingly finds itself unable to agree because of the need to secure unanimity among member states.She said, “Why are even simple statements on EU values delayed, watered down or held hostage for other motives? When member states say Europe is too slow, I say be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting at least on human rights and sanction implementation.”On the subject of on-going Brexit negotiations, Von der Leyen lashed out at a new Internal Market Bill put forth by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that could violate portions of the withdrawal agreement signed in January. She said of the agreement, “It cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or dis-applied. This is a matter of law and trust and good faith.”She said time is running out for a Brexit trade agreement before the end of the year deadline. The Reuters news service reported Tuesday Britain had quietly offered concessions on some of the other issues blocking the agreement, leaving some officials hoping a deal is still possible.The EU Commission president also condemned recent policies in Poland to restrict the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people that are being promoted by the nationalist government there. Von der Leyen said there was no place in the bloc for such polices.She said “I will not rest when it comes to building a union of equality, a union where you can be who you are and love who you want without fear and recrimination because being yourself is not your ideology. It is your identity and no one can ever take it away. So I want to be crystal clear: LGBTQI-free zones are humanity-free zones. And they have no place in our union.”On the subject of climate change, Von der Leyen announced a new commission plan to cut the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030, up from an existing target of 40%.