Jean-Claude Juncker officially handed over the helm of the European Commission to Ursula von der Leyen, on Tuesday in Brussels.
Juncker ceded the presidential bell to his successor, while his portrait was unveiled in the gallery of Commission presidents.
“Leaving is like dying a little,” quipped Juncker. He thanked his teams for their “incredible loyalty” and praised the qualities of the former German minister, who is the first woman to head the Commission. “I think I can say you are lucky to have Ursula von der Leyen as president of the Commission,” he said, adding, “she will do everything she can, and she knows to do many things, to serve Europe.”
The former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, who will be 65 years old on 9 December, did not fail to inject some humour into the handover ceremony. “I’m giving you a bell that serves strictly no purpose,” he told von der Leyen after ringing the golden bell. “I was given this bell at the start of my term. The initial idea was to ring the bell when an intervention took more than three minutes … All interventions always took more than three minutes!”
Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission has 27 members – no British commissioner – for an EU which, for the moment still has 28. It took office on Sunday and includes Belgium’s Didier Reynders, whose maiden European portfolio is that of Justice Commissioner.
For her part, Von der Leyen described Juncker as a “great European”. Noting that he had presided over Europe in a challenging period, punctuated by crises such as “the annexation of Crimea, the appearance of Daech/ISIS, the destabilisation of Africa and the Brexit referendum,” she lauded the way he had steered Europe throughout it.
Pointing to some of his achievements, she recalled that he was one of the founders of the euro and of the Lisbon Treaty and highlighted his action in defence of Europe, including in the area of trade with the U.S.
She also mentioned the investment plan he had spearheaded, dubbed by some the Juncker Plan because they saw it as over-ambitious and “thought it would fail”. However, “it triggered hundreds of billions in investment,” she recalled.
“Today we are also setting the bar very high and some are telling us that we are being too ambitious,“ the new Commission President said, “but you have shown us that a union only succeeds when it aims high.”