Ursula von der Leyen is the next president of the European Union and her start date is likely to be postponed into January 2020, due to a need to select a Romanian commissioner. She is the first woman to hold this office and the first German since the European Economic Community was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1967.
I was wondering what her in-tray will look like as she takes over this important role at this difficult time not only in Europe but across the world. Apart from what is happening in Europe there are many mass resistance movements unfolding in countries all over the world.
In the US, Puerto Rico protests led to the upending of the local government structure. In Latin America, there have been protests in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Chile. In the Caribbean, Haiti is experiencing its worst political turmoil since 2004. In the Middle East, Iraq and Lebanon have erupted into mass upheavals. In Africa we have recently seen the departure of the Algerian president Abdul Aziz Bouteflika and in Sudan the long-time leader Omar Al Bashir is in jail. In Hong Kong, months of mass sustained protests have brought the nation to a standstill.
Back in Europe we have protests in many of the EU countries from the old established members such as France, Italy and Germany through to the more recent members in Eastern Europe. The only part of Europe that seems to be relatively free from protests are the Scandinavian countries where the populations enjoy a range of social benefits, such as generous state pensions and a much fairer income distribution.
The departure of the UK from the EU will leave a big hole in the budget due to the UK being the second largest net contributor after Germany. Only 10 of the 28 countries of the EU contribute more than they receive. There is already talk that the German contribution will have to double when the UK departs.
Another worry is the slow rate of growth across Europe and according to the EU GDP is now forecast to expand by 1.2 per cent in 2021. Germany, the largest economy in the EU has been stuck in no growth for a year with hopes fading for a turnaround, a situation that will spread lasting economic gloom across Europe. Its vast manufacturing industry is in recession, a victim of shifting consumer trends, China’s economic rebalancing, and a global trade war. Investment spending is shrinking, sentiment is souring, job creation has stalled, and productivity growth looks to have turned negative.
The influx of refugees continues to plague the EU particularly those countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The EU has struggled for years as to how to deal with this issue and one of the solutions has been to pay countries such as Turkey and Libya to keep refugees in their countries. To date the EU has paid Turkey €6 billion and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened reopening the routes to Europe if Turkey does not receive more support for a resettlement plan.
Finally, the relationship with the US has soured under the Trump presidency. He has questioned the traditional role the US plays in the defence of Europe. To make matters worse the French president said that Nato is “brain dead”.
Who would want this job paying just over €300,000 per annum?
Gordon is the former president and chief executive of BMMI. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org