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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Ursula von der Leyen’s State of the EU speech deconstructed

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Which phrases did Ursula von der Leyen emphasize most? Which topics were swept under the rug? And how did the oratory compare to last year and her predecessors?

The Commission president used her second State of the European Union speech in Strasbourg to trumpet the bloc’s vaccine success and present new initiatives on defense and beefing up the Continent’s prowess for manufacturing semiconductors. POLITICO’s number crunchers have turned our attention to analyzing von der Leyen’s script — and what her words tell us about her changing priorities

Comparing the mentions of different word groups in previous SOTEU speeches reveals what topics have dominated over time. In 2015, the year the migration crisis peaked, words connected with migration, such as “asylum” and “refugees,” were at the core of Jean-Claude Juncker’s speech.

Inaugural speeches, like the one by von der Leyen as president-elect on November 27, 2019, often touch on a broader range of topics — as a way of setting out the Commission’s ambitions. Back then she riffed on a variety of themes from digitalization and other tech issues to her ambitious plan to beat cancer. After the coronavirus crisis changed the Commission’s (and everyone else’s) plans, health issues around the pandemic were prominent in von der Leyen’s first SOTEU speech.

This year, with the rapid fall of Kabul still fresh in the public’s mind, the Commission president talked significantly more about issues of defense and security — but also freedom. She hailed the importance of a free press and the freedom of women to live without fear of violence. In her words on tech, the vocabulary this year shifted from data to cyber and the production of chips.

And what about the “geopolitical commission” — that buzz phrase that von der Leyen presented early on as a guiding star for her mandate? Nowhere to be heard. And neither was a mention of the United Kingdom, in case you were wondering why there’s no “Brexit” in the charts below.

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