“The delivery of this recovery plan will be the moment of truth for this European Commission – the moment when it will determine its fate”

Crisis in Europe: von der Leyen’s audacious bid for new powers

Be the first to know about every new Coronavirus story Get instant email alerts Ursula von der Leyen delivered a stark message to the EU’s commissioners on Thursday evening at their first in-person meeting for many weeks. She told her socially distanced colleagues that they had an opportunity to forge a viable reconstruction plan for a European economy ravaged by the coronavirus crisis. But they had precious little time at their disposal and only one shot to get it right. One important detail was tellingly absent from the commission president’s private presentation in a windowless room in Brussels’ Berlaymont building: the hugely divisive question of the size of the recovery fund which she will shortly propose. Ms von der Leyen is planning an audacious bid for new powers as she seeks to put her institution at the centre of efforts to revive the European economy, asking member states for unprecedented latitude to raise funds in the markets. But the former German defence minister faces the central test of her short presidency as she seeks to bridge bitter splits within the EU over the plan.

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“The delivery of this recovery plan will be the moment of truth for this European Commission — the moment when it will determine its fate,” says Pascal Lamy, a former head of the World Trade Organization who was cabinet chief to Jacques Delors when he led the commission from 1985 to 1995. “They are talking about exceptionally allowing the EU to borrow and run a deficit to finance the recovery. This really would be crossing the Rubicon for member states.”

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