The new European Commission president told the World Economic Forum in Davos the bloc “must step up in some fields” if it wanted to be “more assertive in the world”. She told delegates Brussels had already laid the foundations of a European Defence Union but now needed to demonstrate its “credible military capabilities”. Ms Von der Leyen, a former defence minister in Angela Merkel’s German government, said recent events had exposed frailties in EU foreign policy where more should have been done.
She said: “Libya shows the cost of division and hesitation.
“I have just come from the Conference on Libya in Berlin. It was good to see that the international community took an important step in the right direction.
“The European Commission will support the process towards reconciliation and reconstruction.
“It takes very little power to break a fragile balance. The true power lies in putting the pieces back together.”
She said Europeans had learnt the importance of living in a stable neighbourhood over the last decade.
She told her Davos audience: “From Ukraine to the shores of the Mediterranean, from the Western Balkans to the Sahel, we have learnt the importance to invest more in long-term stability and to prevent crises.
“This is where Europe can make a real difference.”
She continued: “We are the largest donor for development cooperation – in fact, we invest in this more than the rest of the world combined.
“But we must also do more when it comes to managing crises as they develop.
“For that, Europe also needs credible military capabilities and we have set up the building blocks of the European Defence Union.
“There is a European way to foreign and security policy where hard power is an important tool – but is never the only one.
“Hard power always comes with diplomacy and conflict prevention, with the work on reconciliation and reconstruction, which is something Europeans know well because we have gone through this, here in Europe.”
Ms Von der Leyen’s comments were later echoed by French MEP Nathalie Loiseau, a close ally of French President Emmanuel Macron, who calls for Europe to take more responsibility for its own defence and assert itself as a global military player.
Speaking after talks with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, she said: “European defence is both an indispensable element for the strengthening of NATO and an essential complement to the military alliance.
“Europe must be listened to, exert stronger influence within NATO and have more control over its own defence.”
Since winning power in 2017, Mr Macron has spearheaded the creation of a nine-country European military force – the European Intervention Initiative – that could rapidly react to crises on Europe’s borders without the help of NATO or the US.
He has also called for the creation of a “real European army,” arguing that Europeans could no longer rely on the US for their own defence.