Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/THIERRY MONASSE
Ursula Gertrud von der Leyen. Picture: GETTY IMAGES/THIERRY MONASSE

Strasbourg — Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen vowed on Wednesday to step up the fight against climate change while expanding economic growth as EU MPs  granted final approval for the bloc’s new executive she will lead from December 1.

EU MPs confirmed Von der Leyen as European Commission president along with her new team of 26 commissioners, with 461 voting in favour and 157 against.

“We don’t have a moment to waste any more on fighting climate change,” Von der Leyen told the assembly shortly before the vote in a speech delivered in English, French and German. “It will need massive investment.”

But she said green initiatives would have to be “inclusive”, a gesture to member states such as Poland that still rely on coal for jobs, energy and growth. She said any new EU trade deals would include clauses protecting the environment, and that the European Investment Bank would become the bloc’s climate transition bank.

Von der Leyen will be the first woman to hold the EU’s top job. The 61-year-old former German defence minister, who succeeds Jean-Claude Juncker, will face a full in-tray including economic reform, migration and climate change.

The commission proposes laws for the EU on everything from budgets to energy, negotiates trade deals around the world on behalf of the EU’s 500-million citizens and acts as the bloc’s competition watchdog, approving company mergers and setting rules for global tech giants such as Facebook and Google.

Brexit challenge

In her speech, Von der Leyen called for flexibility to be allowed under EU rules to help economies grow and promised to keep up pressure on upholding democratic standards, signalling no respite for the former communist states such as Poland and Hungary that have locked horns with the bloc over the rule of law.

A close ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, she said the EU’s door remained open for Western Balkan countries hoping for membership. On Brexit, she said she would always be a staunch “Remainer” at heart.

She said that while the EU and the US under President Donald Trump “have issues”, they were bound together. She said she would start her five-year term on Sunday by contacting G-7 and G-20 countries, before heading for the UN climate conference in Madrid on Monday.

She expects to present her proposal for a revamp of the EU’s migration policies next year. Building consensus among fractious member states on the politically sensitive issue of the EU’s next long-term budget from 2021 will be another challenge for Von der Leyen.

The new executive had been due to take office on November 1 but the politically fragmented European parliament rejected three of the nominees, forcing a delay. The executive normally comprises one commissioner from each EU state, though Britain, which is due to exit the bloc, has declined to name a representative.