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Von der Leyen probe draws sharp criticism

By CHEN WEIHUA in Brussels | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2023-09-14 00:27

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivers the State of the European Union address to the European Parliament, in Strasbourg, France, September 13, 2023. [Photo/Agencies]

In her last State of the Union address on Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen touted her achievements and took swipes at China, including announcing the launch of an anti-subsidy probe into Chinese electric vehicles.

But her speech drew sharp criticism for being self-congratulatory and failing to mention many key issues critical to the European Union.

Von der Leyen claimed that "we have delivered 90 percent of the political guidelines" she presented in 2019 when she took office for the five-year term.

She lauded her success in the European Green Deal, gender equality, digital transition, the 800 billion euro ($859 billion) NextGenerationEU investment and reform initiative, and building a Health Union, and helping the EU to become more independent in critical sectors such as energy, chips and raw materials and in helping Ukraine in its conflict with Russia.

However, she did not say whether she will seek reelection in the European election in June next year.

Von der Leyen took multiple shots at China in her one-hour speech, accusing China of "unfair trade practices" in the solar industry and criticizing China's recent export control measures on gallium and germanium.

She then alleged that "global markets are now flooded with cheaper Chinese electric cars" and "their price is kept artificially low by huge state subsidies".

Von der Leyen announced that the commission is launching an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China.

But she also said it is equally vital to keep open lines of communication and dialogue with China.

However, Von der Leyen made no mention of the US' Inflation Reduction Act, which has discriminated against foreign-made electric cars, including from the EU. The EU has reacted by adapting its state aid rules and legislative proposals, and is discussing other possible responses.

In a statement, the China Chamber of Commerce to the EU said it was deeply concerned and opposes the EU's announcement regarding Chinese EVs.

It said the success of Chinese EVs, which are welcomed by European consumers, does not rely on the alleged subsidy.

"We urge the EU to objectively look at China's EV development and not to resort to unilateral trade tools to block China's EVs in the EU and raise their costs," the statement said.

Qin Yan, a carbon analyst based in Oslo with financial data provider Refinitiv, said Von der Leyen emphasized staying course on Green Deal, but did not mention many concrete measures.

"Instead, she has continued the tone on 'de-risking' from China and solid supply chain etc, and the launch of an anti-subsidy investigation of Chinese EVs, as France requested," Qin said.

"So this is more of a campaign speech with lots of China bashing than delivering concrete measures regarding the Green Deal."

Ryszard Legutko, co-chair of the European Conservatives and Reformists, lashed out in front of von der Leyen.

"Is the EU in better shape today than 15 years ago? The answer is an emphatic no," he said. "Something is rotten in the State of the Union. There is more than ever instability, tension and uncertainty."

"As expected lots of self-congratulatory statements," Bas Eickhout, a Dutch MEP of the Greens Group, wrote on X.

"But for the future? Very meager on Green Deal, lots of competitiveness bullshit bingo and very many dialogues. This is more an EPP Spitzenkandidatin speech ..." he said, clearly referring to von der Leyen who has come under great pressure under her own European People's Party on climate and migration policies.

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