A Conversation With President Ursula von der Leyen of the European Commission

Friday, November 20, 2020
Olivier Matthys/Pool/REUTERS

President, European Commission


Cofounder and Co–executive Chairman, The Carlyle Group; Chairman, Board of Directors, Council on Foreign Relations

President von der Leyen discusses her vision for a new transatlantic agenda, prospects for cooperation between the European Union and the United States, and the future of multilateralism.

RUBENSTEIN: Thank you very much. And thank you all for tuning in. I'm David Rubenstein and I am the co-chairman and the cofounder of the Carlyle Group. But more importantly, I am the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Council on Foreign Relations, and I have served with our guest today on the board of directors of the World Economic Forum. So let me briefly introduce our guest this morning. Ursula von der Leyen is the person who is the first woman to serve as the president of the European Commission, and she has an extraordinarily different and unusual background. She is trained as a medical doctor, but after getting her medical degree from Hannover Medical School and also her master's in public health from Hannover Medical School, ultimately she went into politics when she returned from Stanford where she was with her husband, who was teaching at Stanford, she returned to Germany, got involved in politics, elected to the Bundestag in 2003, and then became a member of Angela Merkel's cabinet in 2005, and was the only person to serve continuously in that cabinet until she gave up being a member of the cabinet to take this current position. She's the first woman to serve as the head of the European Commission. She was the first woman to serve as the minister of defense in Germany. And, among other things, in case that wasn't enough for accomplishment, she is a competitive horse rider. She speaks fluent English, German, and French. And she has had time also to raise seven children. Very impressive. So Ursula, thank you very much for being here, and we look forward to your remarks.

VON DER LEYEN: Thank you, David. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for, David, for this introduction and for inviting me. And of course, I would have preferred to be with you in person, but I'd say I'm with you in spirit. And I do also feel like I am with you on Eastern time having spent days and nights watching the U.S. elections. We were all glued to the TV. And I must admit that this was a real learning experience, well, as you said, even for a former U.S. resident and an avowed Americanophile like me. Like so many others I became an overnight expert on voting tendencies in Pennsylvania and turnout rates in Clark County, Nevada, or at least I certainly felt that way. But as the result became clear, my attention turned to the implications and the opportunities for Europe and for the transatlantic alliance. And that is what I want to share with you.

My first observation is that President-elect Biden is a committed trans-Atlanticist. He is of course proud of his Irish roots. He also gets the European Union as a construct and the historical context in which it was shaped. He deeply understands the importance of European integration for both sides of the Atlantic. And his speech to the European Parliament in 2010, where he makes that very case, is kind of recommended reading for Americans and Europeans alike. So we have again, a friend in the White House and the tone will change. But times have also changed and so have we on both sides of the Atlantic. The somewhat paradoxical truth is that European policy towards the U.S. probably became easier in the last four years. In spite, or rather because, of our differences, we have never wavered in our belief that the European Union and the United States of America are on the same side of the table, no matter how far apart it feels like we are sitting.

But as the U.S. government slid its seat further away from the EU and the world, it became easier for Europe to unite on focusing less on the transatlantic partnership and more on damage limitation or limited ambition deals. Instead, the change in dynamic served as a real added impetus for Europe to focus on making itself stronger. So the European Union committed itself to be more of a true regional and global power, to make the most of its geopolitical force on everything from defense to economy, from promoting sustainable development to promoting global civil society. So we deepened our single market and single currency. We expanded our regulatory power. We signed new trade agreements with many countries. We have taken a leadership role and developed unique expertise in managing regional and global issues, such as trade, climate, and tech policy. We're taking greater responsibility for our own security and defense while strengthening our partnership with NATO. So, this process of strengthening Europe, I assure you, will continue. And I believe this can only be a good thing for the transatlantic alliance. A stronger Europe means a stronger partnership based on mutual interest, not on over dependency. At this point in history, no country or entity can change the world through unilateral action, so countries must work together. In particular, if Europe and the United States work together, we can leverage extraordinary global resources and influence.

Look at the numbers. Together, we are the home of nearly one billion people. We account for about a third of the world's GDP, a third of world trade, and 60 percent of foreign direct investment stocks. We are the primary drivers of global R&D, developing much of global technology, from 5G to covered vaccines. We command the world's strongest military alliance. We represent the world's two largest blocks of advanced democracies and we have the reach to set global regulations and standards. In all these areas, Europe and the United States together possess the power and the influence, that is, to use Secretary Madeleine Albright's favorite adjective—indispensable—to anchor global cooperation in the twenty-first century. Using this joint influence to get things done is more important than ever in a world that feels like it is drifting, a world in which the rise of aggressive and subversive actors has destabilized regions and global institutions. A world in which interdependence holds danger as well as promise. So the challenge before the European Union and the United States is clear. And my message today is that we need a new transatlantic agenda to address it. An agenda that reflects this new power dynamic. And that is based on where we want to go and not where we were four years ago. An agenda that can be the linchpin of a new global alliance, to shape the world of tomorrow, and tackle our most pressing global challenges. We, in Europe, embrace this challenge, and we're ready to take the initiative and in that spirit, and to kick off our discussion, I want to propose to you the core of that agenda. And I will break this down into four elements.

The first and most immediate goal of our cooperation should be to overcome the global pandemic. Like the United States and other parts of the world, Europe is in the midst of a second wave. And yet, even in the depths of the pandemic, we can get things done together. Not by chance did the first covered vaccine breakthrough came from a partnership between a European biotech company and a U.S. producer. An expanding portfolio of vaccine candidates gives us cautious optimism that there is light at the end of this tunnel. But we also know that nowhere will be safe until everywhere is healthy. So this is why since the very beginning, Europe has been steering the global response to the corona crisis. We did this together with others—with WHO and CEPI, forty countries joined, including the G20. We did it together with foundations like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation or Wellcome Trust, and with civil society like the NGO, Global Citizen. So together, we created the ACT Accelerator for vaccine, for tests, for diagnostics to make sure that also low- and middle-income countries have access to it. And in a second step, Europe has been leading efforts on the so-called COVAX Facility. That is the vaccination's pillar of this global response. And the goal is to ensure safe vaccines are available for all and are equitably distributed to all. By now, 180-odd countries are participating and our aim is to have some two billion doses available by the end of the next year and to ensure equal and affordable access for middle- and low-income countries. U.S. organizations and experts have been involved from the very outset. But if the U.S. government were to join our common effort, this would be a strong message—joint European and U.S. action on global health and global vaccines, not only for ourselves, but for all. This is the message I want to send especially when measured against other great powers. And that is why I also propose that we work together beyond this. We should work on how to prudently open up transatlantic movement, trade, and air travel. Of course, this has to be based on common standards and protocols for testing and tracking. We should improve the supply chain management. We should work together on prevention, preparedness and response, and propose a joint emergency mechanism to better align our actions in a future crisis. So we should aim to write a common trans-Atlantic playbook for how to respond to pandemics from data sharing to pooling our scientists’ and experts' knowledge. So, many areas exist where transatlantic cooperation can make our regions and the world a safer and healthier place.

And this is also true for the second area ripe for transatlantic cooperation—protecting our climate and our environment. As many of you know, one of the very first things I did when I took office was to launch the European Green Deal. This is Europe's new growth strategy with focusing on cutting emissions while creating jobs and clean innovations. And it will address everything from how we produce and consume, how we eat and heat, how we work and travel. The headline goal is to be the world's first climate neutral continent by 2050. And I hope our member states in the European Union will soon agree on a target to reduce emissions by at least 55 percent by 2030. By now, countries from across the world are following suit. They set their own carbon or climate neutrality goals—Japan, China, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, South Korea. And interestingly, while the U.S. government has stepped back, the rest of the country stepped up. From Chicago to Cleveland, around 140 American cities are now committed to 100 percent renewables and many states have set their own climate neutrality goals. So we look forward to the new administration rejoining the Paris Agreement. We want to deepen our partnership on issues such as emission trading and carbon pricing. Let's work and discuss the alternatives to fossil fuels, such as offshore wind, or innovations in clean hydrogen, or the other renewable technologies, you name it. Europe is also leading the way on financing a green transformation. 30 percent of our big COVID recovery package of €1.8 trillion is to be financed through green bonds. And I believe there is real potential for the U.S. to join us, to create a global regulatory framework, to mobilize finance for sustainable growth. And we also need to focus on protecting nature and the environment more generally. This is as important for our biodiversity as it is for our health and economies. Because the pressures on nature and wildlife will only make future infectious diseases and pandemics more likely and more dangerous—these are the zoonotic diseases. So, this is why I propose that we start working together as soon as possible to promote green trade, to develop nature-based solutions, to go into a circular economy, and to fight deforestation. And this global approach includes also the protection of maritime areas such as Antarctica, and to reach an ambitious global agreement at the next year's UN Biodiversity Conference. This joint leadership is urgent. It is vital for protecting our planet. And by the way, at the same time, it is crucial for us to keep first-mover advantage and to set global standards and rules for a global economy that does not take more from the planet than it gives back.

And this brings me to a third essential area in the transatlantic agenda—digital and tech governance. Let me start with 5G. Managing this technology together is essential for our security, sovereignty, and prosperity. And I believe the European Union and the United States can build on Europe's technological leadership to press for secure infrastructure across the globe. And we need to already start discussions on 6G to stay ahead of the curve. The digital transition is a lot about 5G/6G, but it is not just about hardware or software. It is also about our values and our democracies. And those who write the global rules can shape the future of our societies. And none of us wants China to do that for us. So we must work together. We are proposing to the United States a new common focus on protecting critical technologies, and this covers everything from IP rights to forced transfers of technology and the liberal use of these technologies by China and others, but there's much more we can do besides notably to renew our dialogue on privacy, data protection, and data governance. And these are areas in which the European Union has played a leadership role in the last four years. So for all our differences, more unites us than divides us in these areas. And I'm convinced that the European Union and the U.S. can work together with our like-minded partners around the world. The same goes for setting the rules for Big Tech platforms. In these days, they make huge profits. That is okay. As long as they also contribute to the common good. And they wield huge influence and this is the critical element. This is a matter of upholding fairness, democracy, and security. The European Union is a global leader in thinking about taxation and regulation of such activities, and we welcome an opportunity to share our expertise and to coordinate our efforts across the Atlantic. We both want to tackle those who exploit the internet against our values. And finally, we need to start acting together on AI. My Commission has come forward with ideas on AI, driven by our belief in a human-centric approach to AI. And it would make sense for us to work together with the United States on a blueprint for regional or global standards aligned with our values.

Ladies and gentlemen, the fourth and final element of this new transatlantic agenda is to uphold and upgrade global institutions and governance. We all know that the global rules-based system has been paralyzed. But the solution is not to withdraw or step back. It is to engage and work together for true reform of international institutions. And this process should start with the WHO and the WTO but move far beyond them. So we in the European Union approach this task with long experience in promoting multilateral solutions in our own region. Successful European integration of nearly three-quarters of a century has taught us that promoting cooperation requires a pragmatic result-oriented spirit. And this is why we are the largest and most consistent supporter of multilateral institutions both politically and financially. But we can do more together. And Europe and the United States must be central actors in driving this along with our like-minded partners. In particular, we need to think about how to leverage our common interests and ideals to design better multilateral cooperation among democracies. And one especially important area for this is bilateral and multilateral trade and investment. To get me right bilaterally, we cannot turn the clock back to the last negotiating round on T-TIP. But there is room to address some of our outstanding issues, such as aircraft, steel and aluminum, all of which require delicate and creative handling. Multilaterally, we must reexamine the global trading system and especially China's role within it. For both Europe and the United States, China is a negotiating partner, an economic competitor, and a systemic rival. We want to work together with Beijing, for example, on climate change, biodiversity, and many aspects of economic management, but we must also press hard on them on human rights and on economic issues, such as market distortions, fair market access, intellectual property rights, and foreign investment controls. And all of these things, as the 5G case and defense in the South China Sea suggest, have broader political implications.

Ladies and gentlemen, the four areas I have outlined today are what we see as the core of a renewed transatlantic agenda. Of course, many other issues exist on which we should continue and promote our common interest. Examples include Russia and Ukraine, nonproliferation in Iran, combating corporate tax avoidance, of course, as well as regional crises in the Middle East, Mediterranean, North Africa, Central Asia, and across the world. These priorities are not exhaustive or prescriptive, but they serve as an impetus to a renewed conversation between Europe and the United States of America. Thank you very much.

RUBENSTEIN: Thank you very much, Madam President. And we have some time for questions that I will ask you, and then we'll have questions from those who are in our audience and our members. So let me start by reminding you, not that you need to be reminded, of the famous statement by Henry Kissinger some fifty years ago when he was secretary of state. He said, "When I want to talk to Europe, who do I call?" Well, now we have new organizations in Europe, but if the next secretary of state wants to call Europe, does he call you? Does he call the chancellor of Germany? Does he call the prime minister of England? The president of France? The head of the European Parliament? Who does he call when he wants to talk to Europe? How have things changed in fifty years?

VON DER LEYEN: So he would certainly not call the prime minister of the United Kingdom, because the United Kingdom is a third country and not part of the European Union. But indeed, I would be happy to take the call. And we all work together in a way that we know that the assembled strength of the twenty-seven member states composes the European Union. And this unity and diversity has always been one of our strengths because we find solutions with a broad backing of the twenty-seven member states. And it depends a little bit on what the next president of the United States wants to speak about. So there are competencies for the European Commission, for example, in trade, without any question or for the single market. But there are certainly also other competencies that lie more with the member states. And I think the American system is not completely different from that, of course, you have a completely different governance structure. But there are also competencies on the federal level and competencies of the states. So for me, it was always very impressive to see what I just quoted, the development with fighting climate change, the activity of the states, of the regions, and the cities in the United States was indeed compensating a lot, which was missing on the federal level. So let's see how things evolve and let's work together.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. Now, I think there are a lot of media people watching today. And I suspect the headline, or one of the headlines out of your comments, will be that Donald Trump wasn't so bad for Europe because, while he had some issues with many people in Europe, actually he forced Europe to come together, and Europe has moved on. And so in some ways, he was a blessing in disguise for Europe. Is that an unfair way to describe what you've said?

VON DER LEYEN: Definitely, because these were tough four years. And the fragmentation, the disruption, the unpredictability, the difficulties for us to keep the G7/G20 together to honor and respect our multilateral institutions, they were tangible. And as I said, we have now, again, a friend in the White House and the tone will change and the policies will change. And we are very much looking forward. Now my message is, we are not picking up again where we left four years ago. But the world has changed, the United States has changed, and the European Union has changed. So let's start now in this different world with a different starting point and describe a new transatlantic agenda. This is my signal and my message.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay, so speaking of the new president, have you talked to President-elect Biden yet? Or has he called you or have you called him? Or do you expect to have any communication with him before he is inaugurated in January?

VON DER LEYEN: Yes, we are expecting to have a conversation within the next days.

RUBENSTEIN: Okay. Now, you have publicly said recently that Europe wasn't quite prepared for the second wave of the virus and therefore a lot more work has to be done than maybe had been anticipated. Is that a correct interpretation that you think Europe wasn't quite ready for the very large second wave that's come on or am I misquoting what you said?

VON DER LEYEN: Well, we should have prepared better during summer with the learning experience from the first wave. So what we saw is that the lifting of measures was obviously too rapid and the core element of testing and tracing, which is easier when you have low numbers of infected people as it was during summer at the end of the first wave, should have been built up the system of tracing and tracking way faster and better. Because then when numbers rose again, and we saw that people coming back from the holidays and schools picking up again and university starting again, then you saw the exponential rise in numbers. There the point is you have to test, test, test and trace to isolate and put in quarantine those who are infected to break the beginning of the second wave. What has gotten way better is the European coordination. So, here too it is a point where you see the strength of the twenty-seven. So by now a coordinated approach to how we deal with the flow of goods within the European Union, how we deal with free movement of people in the European Union, the joint procurement, for example, protective personal equipment, the ventilators, now the testing strategy, the portfolio of vaccines we have acquired together to be prepared when the first vaccines come, the vaccination strategies that are aligned now in the European Union, the preparation of all these topics on a European-coordinated basis. This has improved drastically since, well, what was the start in March.

RUBENSTEIN: So you reminded us that the UK is not going to be part of the EU in the future. But will a Brexit legal document ever be signed in our lifetime? It's been talked about for four years or so. Will there actually be a final resolution, let's say this year, or next year, in your view?

VON DER LEYEN: Well, first of all, the next weeks will show that and Brexit is done by the end of the year. So until then there's either a deal or no deal. To get it right, we want a deal but not at any price. And one of the points that is the most difficult is the so-called level playing field. Because you see, the United Kingdom has been integrated completely in the European market over the last approximately forty years. So now if the UK wants to have access to the largest single market in the world, with no tariffs and no quota, then of course, there has to be a level playing field between both sides of the channel. That means fair competition rules and having complete access to the single market means you have to play by the rules of the single market. Buzzwords are state aid or norms like environmental standards or labor standards. This is where we are negotiating hard. And we'll see what the next weeks will bring, because this will decide whether there will be a deal or no deal.

RUBENSTEIN: Now, do you have a view that because the pandemic is resurfacing, that Europe could slip again into a recession? Or do you think that enough action has already been taken by the European countries and the ECB to prevent another recession in Europe?

VON DER LEYEN: Well, there is, of course, a huge heavy economic impact through the second wave of the virus, as in many other regions of the world, but in an unprecedented manner, indeed, the European Union has stood together and put forward supporting measures. So I will not go into the details of the tools we are using, but it ranges from support for these healthy companies who have to hibernate until we have a vaccine and sufficient vaccination of the population up to, for example, keeping workers in the companies by subsidizing wages, even if they do not have enough work. Because we think keeping your skilled personnel, keeping the knowledge in the companies so that the moment the markets are picking up again, you can take the orders because you have the capabilities. So there is a huge package we have already put on the market together with the ECB indeed as European Commission, and now we're working on a second, which we call Next Generation EU, which is a package of the seven-year budget plus Next Generation EU, the recovery plan, in total 1.8 trillion euros.

RUBENSTEIN: So in the United States, the Gallup organization published a poll this week in which it said 58 percent of Americans are prepared to take a vaccine, but 42 percent are not either because they're afraid of vaccines, that they don't think it'll work, or it's been politicized. Is there a similar concern in Europe about taking the vaccine when it is available?

VON DER LEYEN: It varies a bit from region to region. And, but I guess there will, the numbers will not differ too much. And indeed, this is why as a Commission, we have taken on the task to develop an information campaign to fight fake news, to fight misinformation, but also put forward the correct information that is necessary for the European citizen to know what's coming up. And in general, the message is, it is a matter of self-protection and solidarity. And this is what we're debating a lot here in the European Union, too. And it's again, a field where we should work together because convincing people of what is factual, what science tells us, and fighting the misinformation, fighting the fake news that is out there—this is a noble task.

RUBENSTEIN: So today, I'm just curious, when you were the minister of defense in Germany, you have an army, you have all kinds of weapons, you have a lot of power, you have soldiers you can send places. Now, as the president of the European Commission, you don't have an army. Do you feel less powerful than you did before? Or do you feel that it's a job that is even a better job than what you had before? Are you happy you took the job or do you wish you had your previous job?

VON DER LEYEN: Oh, I'm very happy that I am the president of the European Commission. For me, it was like coming home because I was born in Brussels and I grew up here and I just love the concept of the European Union, indeed, this diversity, this multilingual, these different types of personalities, but all with the same vision for European Union and with the same roots, of course, that we bring along. So that's one point. But the other one that you mentioned is power, is certainly not only the question of military power. Power today is economic power. It is actually power through standardization. So if you're able to shape the standards and export them to the rest of the world, you exert power. Power is a lot dealing with having a convening power. I think this is one of the most precious things that is the multilateral-based system. So there's that very different kinds of power you can exert, to the worse or to the better. And if there's anything I've learned in the time as a defense minister, yes, you need sometimes deterrence, you need military strength, but over time, you need reconciliations in the crisis region, you need reconstruction in the crisis regions. So you need way more than that to really create again, an environment where people have a perspective and people live together in peace. And this consists of topics I was just mentioning. So to work on the fact that people have jobs, that they can feed their families, that they have a future where they are, is the most noble and best task you can fulfill.

RUBENSTEIN: A final question before we take questions from the others is, you are obviously a woman, you're the head of the European Commission. Angela Merkel's a woman, she's chancellor of Germany. And the head of the ECB, Christine Lagarde, is a woman. So what about affirmative action in Europe for men? Are you going to have any affirmative action so men can get some important positions from time to time?

VON DER LEYEN: Well, I'm getting tired of these types of questions to be honest. If I look at all the leading positions that are there, what I see is we have, for example, now an agenda-balanced college. The College of Commissioner is gender balanced and it is a completely different atmosphere to work and decide. Not that I say that women are better, they are different. And this combination is so fascinating to have this broad view on risks or opportunities in the European Union or in the world. It's a completely different decision-making process, and therefore, I think the winning teams are those who have diverse teams, where you can indeed integrate different views, different backgrounds, different experiences, different ways to address the world. Then the result, I think, is more sustainable and better.

RUBENSTEIN: Well, thank you very much for a very interesting talk.

VON DER LEYEN: Thank you, David.

RUBENSTEIN: We’ll have some more questions for about twenty minutes before we are finished. So can we have the first question?

STAFF: We’ll take the first question from Peggy Hicks.

Q: Thank you very much. This is Peggy Hicks. I work at the UN's Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights here in Geneva. I was very glad to hear, Commissioner, your statements about the importance of digital and new technologies and to emphasize the global reach of the actions that are taken by the European Union in this area. And with that in mind, I wanted to ask you, to comment on, an area that wasn't as prevalent in your remarks, which is the area of online content and disinformation. And the extent to which the European Union will go to ensure that regulation of the space avoids overreach and restrictions of speech and provides full transparency for the actions that are being taken. And with that in mind focusing, for example, on areas like the new Terrorist Content Online Regulation, in draft form currently, which includes a number of provisions which groups have been concerned about as going too far in terms of use of upload filters and vague definitions of terrorism that could actually stifle dissent and be used in actions by governments and in ways particularly, possibly in the European Union, but particularly when these types of regulations are replicated globally. So we very much appreciate your thoughts on that. Thank you.

VON DER LEYEN: Yes, thank you for that question. So it is indeed this very fine balance that we have to find, not at all to restrict free expression of speech and freedom of expression. But on the other hand, to fight, for example, terrorist online content. And that's why it's good that the different institutions in the European Union are looking into that at the moment being it is in the negotiations between Council and Parliament and it's exactly this fine balance that they try to find. And I want to draw your attention also on another file we're working on. This is the responsibility of the large platforms, indeed, in a wider content. If we talk about, for example, child abuse, or if we talk about, indeed, the terrorist content, but also hate speech, here to find a mechanism that not everything is allowed and possible on the large platforms, but of course, to be very sensitive to the topics you were mentioning. The principle will be that it's understandable that large platforms cannot know about everything that's on that platform. But the moment they get informed, they get the hint that this is there, they should have the responsibility to become active and to work together with the authorities to make sure that such devastating content is not offered broadly on the platforms anymore. And this is where we have to work hard and define the rules, which basically mirrors the fact that what would never be accepted offline, cannot be just accepted online. We have to find this fine balance as we have it in the analog world in these topics that we know how to protect freedom of expression, freedom of free speech, but on the other hand, fight these criminals that should not have just open field on the internet.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Karen Donfried.

Q: Yes, this is Karen Donfried from the German Marshall Fund of the United States. President von der Leyen, thanks so much for laying out such an ambitious and clear new transatlantic agenda. I was interested in your view of the idea that President-elect Biden put forward in his spring article in Foreign Affairs, where he said that in his first year, he would organize and host a global summit for democracy aimed at galvanizing new commitments to fight corruption, defend against authoritarianism, and advance human rights. First, I'm curious, do you support that idea of a summit for democracy? And second, if President-elect Biden were to ask your advice on how one could most effectively organize such as summit, and how one defines the criteria for which countries are democracies that should participate? I'd be very interested in your views. Thank you.

VON DER LEYEN: Thank you. So I don't think that he needs my advice. But I very much support such an idea. Because we have seen over the last years, of course, the rise of authoritarian regimes, and I haven't understood his initiative, so restricted only to the question who should attend. But also to the question, how can we revive the democracy in its finest way to be, that is in a respectful dialogue and in a competition for the best common ideas, but not in division, or hate for each other, or the populism we have seen growing in the last years. So to find again this culture of dialogue and this culture of finding common solutions, which is the essence of democracy, the respect for minorities, for example, all these are topics, how to revive that. And if we engage in such a discussion in a structured way, and globally, this would be a fantastic proposal, which I would immediately support. The other thought behind it is also that it is important to have this kind of conversation in an open and wide space, because even if people live in autocratic systems and regimes, it does not mean that you should not reach out to them to convince that there is something better waiting for them. And that is democracy, that there's hope that their lives can improve, that freedom is coming. We have the examples in our history and that we support them in their thriving for a change for a better world. So I would be very interested in going into those dialogues.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Suyash Paliwal.

Q: Thank you, David and President von der Leyen for your remarks. My name is Suyash Paliwal, director of the Office of International Affairs at the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which as you know, is the principal financial derivatives regulator in the U.S. and in my role at the CFTC, I have greatly enjoyed working with your colleagues, including EVP Dombrovskis, John Berrigan, Ugo Bassi, and Patrick Pearson and others at DG FISMA, in reaching a harmonious arrangement for supervision of clearing houses or central counterparties, CCPs, in ways that embrace deference and supervisory cooperation between EU and U.S. supervisors. We look forward to the steps to implement EMIR 2.2, the EU's new regulatory framework for clear derivatives and the continued positive relationship with the EC and ESMA. My question to you is as to your views on financial markets and capital markets, including the EC's capital markets union project, an ambitious and commendable initiative, and how you see financial markets playing a role in European innovation, new frontiers, stability, advancement, and collaboration with the U.S.? Thank you.

VON DER LEYEN: Thank you. First of all, as you know, by the expertise that I hear from your introduction, you know, there is still a good chunk of work to do here in finalizing the capital markets union, so that the flow of capital is seamless and without any barriers in the single market and the access to capital mainly for small and medium enterprises is guaranteed and possible throughout the European Union. But to go a bit more into the part of your question that is looking towards how to shape the future. One of the typical fields where, for example, capital markets can play an enormous role is in fighting climate change through the topic that I was briefly touching on in the introductory remarks. That is, for example, the green bonds we are issuing. And as I've said, 30 percent of the package of Next Generation EU will be issued by green bonds. This is a fascinating field. Because by doing this, and by being very clear in the taxonomy in the criteria, what green bonds really serve, by doing that you can also push forward through the capital markets. Of course, the development of projects that serve the European Green Deal, that serve climate agenda, that is a positive one that supports innovation exactly in that field. And I think this might be one of the examples you have in mind where through the capital market, a lot of capital can go into innovation that serves a specific goal, a specific agenda. And here it would be the climate agenda. A field where my perception is an enormous amount of innovative potential is there. The need will rise for new technologies, clean technologies, fossil fuel technologies, because as I've said, many countries now start to turn around to say we want to be climate neutral at a certain point in time, we want to change the way we produce, and for that we need to support and to foster clean technologies, fossil fuel technologies. So the capital market can play an enormous role by that and, for example, the green bonds, too. Another field would be social bonds. We were the first ones to issue them a few weeks ago. The pattern is the same, but it goes in a different field, that is, for example, the social field.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Isabelle Mateos y Lago.

Q: Thank you very much. President von der Leyen, how worried—sorry, Isabelle Mateos y Lago from BlackRock. How worried are you by the recent rift among members over the issue of rule of law and core values, both in terms of its potential to derail agreement on the EU budget and recovery fund, but also potentially in terms of longer-term damage in the connective tissue of the European Union, if you will?

VON DER LEYEN: So the European Union is founded certainly not only on an economic interest, but on our values. And one of the founding principles is the value to abide to the rule of law, mainly coming from a history as the European continent had in the last century. So the respect for the rule of law, the strength of the rule of law, the guarantee that it's the law that protects you, and the law that is the arbitrary, and not any other institution or any other force, is a founding principle for the European Union. A second experience is that you have over and over again, to make sure that it is lively, it is respected, it is in place and not threatened. It's actually like with our democracies. We have to care for our democracies on a daily basis, or when neglecting them, we lose them. Therefore, this is a principal discussion. But coming to the point that you were specifically asking on, we are sitting down now, we are trying to find a solution. There were a lot of open questions by the respective member states towards the rule of law mechanism, which we're answering right now. So the German presidency is in the lead, the rotating presidency in the European Union, it is in the lead to lead the negotiations. These processes are difficult, but this is also a signature of democracy that these are the processes that we openly discuss and where we openly show how the negotiating and the discussion process is moving forward. I'm confident that in the very end we will find a positive solution. It has to be very clear that the rule of law is respected in the European Union, and as I said, this is a founding principle.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from Henry Farrell.

Q: Madam President, I'm Henry Farrell, I'm the SNF Agora professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS. You mentioned briefly in your address how interdependence held dangers. And one of the questions that Europe has always had with its interdependence with the United States has been the way in which the United States has employed sanctions with extraterritorial effect, which of course, has had substantial consequences for European companies. So what are your hopes for the Biden administration on this set of difficult questions for Europe? And if your hopes are not realized, what kinds of options might Europe have?

VON DER LEYEN: Well, it depends very much on the topic you're in. So for example, we have the hope that the new administration and the president-elect, when being president will engage again in the discussions around the JCPOA, for example, a field where sanctions have been put out. But here, too, we cannot pick up where we left. The world has changed, the surrounding environment has changed, but we should pick up again the dialogue together how we can contain the proliferation work in Iran and how we can find again an agreement that puts it all under control as we had it before. There are other fields, where I think that the threat of a sanction will not be any more out there. If, for example, look at the topic of Nord Stream 2—I'm sure that the position of the United States will not change. But that's what I mean that we have, again, a dialogue with the White House. And this is good, so you can discuss these different topics. And I think this is the underlying message. There might be situations where sanctions are necessary from the view of the United States. That's the decision then of the United States of America. But before you go there, let's talk together. Let's sit down and let's negotiate and let's differentiate and let's find other solutions if other solutions are better. This is the difference we're asking for and we know this will come and we're looking forward to that.

STAFF: We'll take the next question from David Merkel.

Q: Thank you. This is David Merkel with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. I'd also like to compliment you, Madam President, on your articulation of a new transatlantic agenda. My question has to do with Russia, and I guess back on sanctions a little bit, but many have been surprised by the European Union's consensus holding firm on Russia. I wonder if you could talk a bit about Russia and about opportunities for the U.S. and Europe to work together on Russia.

VON DER LEYEN: I'm a bit surprised on your description that the European Union is too much compromising towards Russia, because my experience over the last years is quite a different one. David Rubenstein said correctly and rightly so that I started in the cabinet of Angela Merkel in 2005. And I very well remember, these were the days with a young Vladimir Putin, how high the expectations were and how much he was open for cooperation for opening the economy. And we traveled there. We were there many times at the very beginning. And I very much remember how slowly but surely the relation eroded. And the main break was the annexation of Crimea, the deep breach of international law. There is a story behind the Crimea and Ukraine in relation also to Russia and international treaties that have been ignored completely. So then a change came, and when I look now at the relation it's a very distant one. Russia is our neighbor so we have to deal with Russia. But it's a very cautious, distant, sober relationship, no high expectations, we know very well how difficult it is to deal with Russia. The Navalny case was one of many, many topics where this was obvious again. I witnessed in my time as a defense minister, these ongoing hybrid threats coming from Russia, starting with the so-called little green men in eastern Ukraine. But going deep into internet-based fake news, trolls, bots, with all the attempts to really undermine public trust in not only Ukraine, but also European democracies. So this experience is there. And there is no illusion on Russia. And from day to day or fact to fact, we deal with the different circumstances knowing very well that this relationship has cooled off because of many of these topics I was just mentioning.

RUBENSTEIN: Madam President, I want to thank you very much for a very interesting talk and the response to the questions we've had and that I had. I hope when the pandemic is behind us and travel is easier to be done between the United States and Europe, you can come to visit the Council on Foreign Relations, and we can do something in person. But thank you for the job you're doing and thank you for being here today.

VON DER LEYEN: Thank you, David. Thanks to all the others. It was wonderful to be there and I would love to come. Thanks a lot. Bye-bye.


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