Blog & Comments

Willkommen Ursula Von Der Leyen

Ursula Von Der Leyen – a new name joins the cadres of the EU institutions as the President of the European Commission 2019-2024. What does the children’s rights sector expect from her and what can she realistically achieve? Here’s a reflection from Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General, Eurochild.

In 2007, when the Eurochild network was just 3 years old, Von der Leyen supported the creation of an EU Alliance for Families as Federal Minister for Family, Older Persons, Women and Youth.  This knowledge sharing platform, now known as the European Platform for Investing in Children offers vital information on policies for children and families from across the EU. Since then the challenges have grown, as has recognition that the EU can and should do more to tackle them.

There are an estimated 100 million children growing up in the EU. Around one in four of them are at risk of poverty and social exclusion, negatively impacting their life chances.  Children in migration face dangers not only before arriving in Europe, but within the EU borders, as they tackle discrimination, segregation and worse, detention – losing a chance at having a normal childhood. Europe’s child protection systems are ill-equipped to prevent family separation or to provide an appropriate, high-quality family alternative for children in state care. And the list continues.

Despite its limitations, the “last chance” Commission did push the social agenda forward. Protecting children from poverty is one of the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, which was adopted by heads of Commission, Council and Parliament in late 2017. The funding instruments of the EU’s next multi-annual budget are, to greater extent, informed by civil society’s demands for reform. For example, the proposals set minimum requirements on governments to fund social inclusion projects, which support ending child poverty and reforming child protection systems. But the job isn’t yet done.

The next 5 years must show the European Union’s capacity to deliver on its promises. In her hearing at the European Parliament last week, President Von Der Leyen made a list of commitments. Importantly she gave her support to the child guarantee, which aims to achieve free healthcare, free education, free childcare, decent housing and adequate nutrition for all children! As partners in the feasibility study on this child guarantee, we look forward to working with the new Commission on making this a reality.

President Von Der Leyen cannot achieve it all alone. In her team, she needs someone who will speak for (and with) children, work for an EU that really does invest in its future. Despite promotion of children’s rights being an explicit objective of the Lisbon Treaty, there is no high-level political representation of children in the EU. That’s why Eurochild launched its campaign for a Commissioner for ChildrenWe expect Team Von Der Leyen to include a Commissioner with explicit responsibility for protection and promotion of children’s rights in Europe, in accession countries and in its external action.

Finally, I welcome President Von Der Leyen’s ambition to reach out to citizens through a conference on the future of Europe. We must not forget that children under 18 years have much to contribute to this debate! By involving children from a young age, we are building active and responsible citizens. And children are keen to have their say. Our joint survey with UNICEF, on the Europe Kids Want, shows that children care about the world they live in, they see the value of the EU, and want more action to be taken. It is only common sense to engage the children in a debate on the EU they will inherit.

I look forward to our newly elected European Parliament to support our demands in their hearing of the Commissioners and wish President Von Der Leyen viel glück!