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With next years elections in mind, Von der Leyen paints herself as EU business champion

state of the european union address in strasbourg
Ursula von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday defended her track record as European Commission chief, as she announced an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese electric vehicles and presented herself as a champion of European business.

Von der Leyen, who is widely expected to seek a second term as head of the EU executive next year but has yet to announce her plans, said in her annual State of the Union speech that Europe was “responding to the call of history” with its support for Ukraine and promotion of green energy.

“Europe will do whatever it takes to keep its competitive edge,” she told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, saying she would defend European business against any unfair competition.

“So I can announce today that the Commission is launching an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China. Europe is open to competition. Not for a race to the bottom,” she said.

Von der Leyen, who has been at the head of the bloc’s executive Commission since the end of 2019, also said she would appoint an envoy to help small and medium-sized enterprises tackle red tape to make it easier to do business.

In her last State of the Union speech before European Parliament elections next June, von der Leyen said the Commission was proposing to extend special protections granted to Ukrainian citizens who fled to the EU to escape Russia’s war.

She also restated the EU’s commitment to long-term support for Kyiv.

“Our support to Ukraine will endure,” she said.

Lawmakers gave a standing ovation after von der Leyen recounted the fate of Victoria Amelina, a Ukrainian writer and activist who was killed in a Russian attack on Ukraine.

MEPs applauded as Héctor Abad Faciolince, a Colombian writer who was wounded in the same attack, showed a photograph of Amelina to the chamber.

GREEN ENERGY

Von der Leyen announced a series of measures, including a package to support Europe’s wind industryto boost renewable energy amid steep inflation.

“When I stood in front of you in 2019 with my programme for a green, digital and geopolitical Europe, I know that some had doubts,” she said.

“But look at where Europe is today. We have seen the birth of a geopolitical Union – supporting Ukraine, standing up to Russia’s aggression, responding to an assertive China and investing in partnerships.”

“We now have a European Green Deal as the centrepiece of our economy and unmatched in ambition.”

Von der Leyen also said the wealthy bloc must engage more with African countries and accused Russia of stirring chaos in the Sahel region of the continent.

“We need to show the same unity of purpose towards Africa as we have shown for Ukraine. We need to focus on cooperation with legitimate governments and regional organisations,” she said.

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