French Secretary of State for Europe Laurence Boone said to DW after von der Leyen’s speech, that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine had thrown the question of European security into a sharper focus.
Asked why France, once reticent on the idea of EU expansion, was now leading the push to expand the 27 members, Boone said this was a key reason.
“It will be no surprise if I tell you that the world has changed, right?,” Boone said. “We have geopolitical tensions all over the place. We have a war on our border.”
“What is the most important thing for the European Union today is the security of the continent. And for this security to materialize, we need to make sure that we have a very strong, large EU where all the democratic states are cooperating together. This is what will be driving enlargement,” Boone said.
However, she also said that this would not translate into relaxing the rules of joining the bloc.
“We will be very strong on the rule of law,” she said. “But we will have those countries. It will be good for them and good for us.”
Boone also commented on von der Leyen’s announcement of launching a probe into the Chinese electric cars subsidies. She said it was important to protect the European car manufacturing industry and the single market against “unfair competition.”
“So when a company is heavily subsidized by a state and tries to enter the single market, displacing the local car manufacturer, this is unfair.”
Boone said taxes, levies or import restrictions could be imposed if the investigation finds evidence of unfair subsidies.
Alexandra von Nahmen, DW Brussels Bureau Chief who was covering von der Leyen’s speech from Strasbourg, said the European Commission president’s speech sounded to her like a “re-election speech,” even though she steered clear of addressing whether she intended to run for a second term.
Von Nahmen said the speech gave the impression that “she would like to stay on,” describing it as an optimistic speech.
“Of course she didn’t announce that she’s ready to run again as president of the European Commission, but the energy she has shown, the goals that she presented, making clear she’s ready to take on the challenges and she’s ready to address the many issues that were listed in her speech.”
Von der Leyen certainly tried to emphasize the pace of change during her tenure, seeming to tout her legacy as a far-reaching and significant one for the bloc.
Von der Leyen wrapped up her annual address to the EU parliament, by addressing the continent’s youth.
“It is the moment to show them that we can build a continent where you can be who you are, love who you want, aim as high as you want. A continent reconciled with nature and leading the way on new technologies. A continent that is united in freedom and peace,” she said.
“Once again this is Europe’s moment to answer the call of history.”
The speech, which lasted in the region of an hour, did not touch on arguably the most anticipated question — whether von der Leyen hopes to continue in her role after the European Parliament elections of 2024.