Ursula von der Leyen promises ‘more outward-looking Europe’ under her leadership

European Commission’s new leader tells Paris Peace Forum of plans for stronger role

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen delivers a speech at the Paris Peace Forum Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019 in Paris. (Ludovic Marin/Pool via AP)
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The new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, on Tuesday said that under her leadership, the continent would dramatically increase its investment in international policy.

“I want to build a truly geopolitical commission," Ms von der Leyen said at the Paris Peace Forum opening ceremony. "I want a more outward European Union.”

She was sharing the stage with French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan and Felix Tshisekedi, President of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Ms von der Leyen, who served in German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet for 14 years, will take the helm of the European Commission on December 1, replacing Jean-Claude Juncker.

“My vision is of a Europe that helps reconcile those who are divided, a Europe that brings together those who are apart – but at the same time, a Europe that demands responsibility from ourselves, our friends and our partners.”

Ms von der Leyen said that in the next long-term budget for the 27 states, Europe would spend 30 per cent more on external action than it did today, and that she wanted to allocate the funds “effectively and strategically”.

French President Emmanuel Macron weclomes Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou as he arrives for a lunch at the Elysee Palace as part of the Paris Peace Summit in Paris, France, November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Johanna Geron

But she said that global challenges such as increases in protectionism and unilateralism, climate change and the digital revolution remained.

“The challenges are enormous but it is not the first time in history that huge challenges have been turned in to opportunities,” Ms von der Leyen said.

She gave the example of the Berlin Wall, which came down three decades ago this year.

“Thirty years ago it was the courage of women and men who broke down walls, women and men who stood for freedom for simply for a better life," Ms von der Leyen said.

"Standing together they built a different Europe. Of course, challenges today are different but the need for courage, the need to stand together, is stronger than ever.”

Mr Macron's speech had a less upbeat tone. He said there was “an unprecedented crisis of our international system”.

“We are faced with a crisis of our ecological and political systems," he said.

"An open market economy and free trade in the wake of the Second World War was very effective but only in 70 years did it pull a lot of people out of poverty and bring peace to many regions."

President of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) Felix Tshisekedi delivers a speech at the start of the Paris Peace Forum, France November 12, 2019. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS

Mr Macron said new inequalities had emerged, including “a crisis in European democracies” and an increase in unilateralism.

In a reference to the US, Mr Macron criticised nations that were guilty of "non-co-operation", and that withdrew military from countries and agreements without proper dialogue.

“It might be tempting to think withdrawal might be easier and more effective, but I don’t think so," he said.

"We tested this option in this past, and it only leads to war. Nationalism only leads to war."

Mr Macron addressed comments he made over the weekend about the US making Nato “brain-dead”.

“My comment may have shocked some people in this world but we need to weather the reality,” he said. “Laziness or hypocrisy” was not the solution.

"Europe needs to be a trusted third party between US and China. It needs to be independent and have its own voice and contribution to building new solutions."

Mr Wang said that China had enjoyed the benefits of globalisation and that fighting climate change was a priority for Beijing.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas answers reporters as he attends the Paris Peace Forum, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019 in Paris. (AP Photo/Michel Euler)

“In the face of these challenges, no one can stay unscathed or deal with them in their world," he said.

"Shifting troubles on to others is not the way forward and collective response is the only viable option. We are ready to work with all other countries to foster survival of mankind."

Mr Tshisekedi said that although Africa today was the continent most destabilised by conflict, his country looked to play a central role in fighting climate change.

“The Congo Basin and its forest will help us fight climate change, and I know that’s important to my counterpart, Mr Macron," he said.

"We have arable land that will reduce the food deficit by a factor of two, and fresh water, which accounts for significant proportion of fresh water in Africa. It is also a great source of energy.”

Mr Tshisekedi said his country’s abundant mineral resources would help to promote global stability.

The Paris Peace Forum, now in its second year, was initiated by Mr Macron “to encourage international co-operation and collective action for a world at peace”.

The forum, which attracted 6,000 delegates and 27 heads of state, was held at La Grande Halle De La Villette in the French capital.

It began on Monday and runs until Wednesday afternoon.

Subjects to be covered include education, sex equality, conflict resolution, agriculture, oceans and water management, soft power, arts and refugees.

The future of global trade, battling  climate change, preventing extremism and new technology such as artificial intelligence are also on the agenda.