Speech by President von der Leyen on European perspectives at the Federal Delegates' meeting of the CDU's Women's Union

Dear Annette Widmann-Mauz,

Dear Friedrich Merz,

Dear Rita Süssmuth,

Dear Maria Böhmer,

Dear Diana Stolz,

Dear friends,

Thank for your inviting me to celebrate 75 years of the Women's Union. When I was born, the Women's Union was 10 years old, so you could say that we have experienced the various stages of life – childhood, youth, adulthood, growing older – more or less together, so I know that we have both come a long way.

When I was born, a woman still had to ask her husband for permission to work outside the home. He could have her dismissed from work if he felt that she was neglecting her domestic duties. When I left school, the constitution of the German Football Association still banned women from playing. Not until I was a student could women in Germany conclude their own contract of employment, and, even then, we had to fight to make this formal right a reality in everyday life. How was it supposed to work without childcare, all-day schools and the ability to reconcile work and family life?

It was the Union – in the person of Rita Süssmuth – who, in the 1990s, pushed through the legal right to a kindergarten place. It was the Union that introduced parental allowance and paternity leave. It was the Union that introduced the right to a nursery place.

Dear Women's Union, we did this together, and can be proud of our achievements.

But this experience taught all of us assembled in this hall an important lesson: equality between the sexes does not just happen. Every step forward has to be fought for, and can easily be lost. Real equality requires attention and commitment every day. Our predecessors broke bulletproof glass ceilings for us, and I will always be grateful to them, because my career would not have been possible without trailblazers like Helene Weber, Luise Rehling and you too, dear Rita.

We experience every day how far there is still to go to achieve equality. It should be a given, everywhere in Europe, that mothers should also be able to pursue a career. Equal pay for equal work should be the norm. And it should be self-evident. But it is still far from commonplace. We all know that there has been progress, but there is much room for improvement. In particular with respect to the proportion of top positions filled by women, there is still a great deal to do. In business, in science and research, in politics. Even in the CDU. For that reason, it is still important that YOU, the Women's Union, continue to speak up against inequality – even after 75 years. It's good for our party and for the whole country.

Because this is about far more than just women's issues. There can be no real democracy without equality between men and women, without freedom for everyone to go to school, to study, to work, to marry whomever they love, to live a life free of violence, and that means everywhere, whether at home or on the street.

Two days ago, I attended an awards ceremony in Potsdam on a subject dear to my heart – the brave women and girls of Iran. For around a year now, they have been protesting, and the spark that lit the fire was the death of a young woman, just 22 years old, at the hands of the Iranian morality police. Her so-called crime was, in the view of the moraIity police, to show too much hair. She was beaten in the police van and went into a coma at the police station She never woke up again. But millions of her compatriots rose up in her place. Today, the revolution in Iran is being fought by women and girls, who are risking imprisonment, exile or even death. They put their young lives on the line for a better future. Not only are these events a turning point for hundreds and thousands of women and girls in Iran, but they constitute a sea change for this male-dominated society. For the first time, it is women who are taking on leadership and responsibility for the future of Iran. That is a message that radiates far beyond Iran's borders.

I believe that societies in which women take on responsibilities freely and on an equal footing are not only fairer societies but also better, more successful societies, with more talent, more potential, and more intergenerational equality.

These are all strengths which we need in order to respond to the major challenges of our time. When it comes to climate change, this is about no less than whether our children and grandchildren will still be able to live on this planet. Sometimes I wonder what nature and the climate will be like by 2050, when our children will be of an age to start families themselves. I know that how we act today will determine whether they still get to see a spring, summer, autumn and winter. Science has impressed this on us. Today, we – and only we – can still set things right, in close cooperation with our economy. Our businesses are incredible. But right now they, like their global competitors, must transform themselves in order to stay ahead of the competition.

Those who are best in moving to digitalisation and clean technology will be ahead of the game. Global investment here is huge as everyone knows that the circular economy and clean tech are the new growth strategies par excellence. The race is on in Europe, but also in the USA, China, Japan and the Global South where there are plentiful reserves of sunshine and wind for renewable energy. And when you look at the workforce, you see that there are currently career opportunities in the millions for smart and capable women. The old dirty-energy sector based on coal, oil and gas is traditionally one of the very male-dominated sectors. But the new clean-energy sector is a completely different situation. In the next two years, the European battery industry, for example, will need an additional 800 000 skilled workers alone. The solar industry is looking to create one million additional jobs by 2030. Today already some 40% of workers in this sector are women, twice as many as in the oil and gas industry. And this is a good thing, as it is here that the future is being decided.

We are not just talking about equality here, but also about crucial opportunities for growth and prosperity in Europe. What matters is how quickly we progress towards climate neutrality. We are in a crucial phase where the global race for clean technology is gathering pace. Those who possess the innovation and technology will lead the market and have the new industries. Europe is a global leader in patents for green hydrogen, in offshore wind energy, but also in smart grids which the world needs for a clean energy supply. But it is vital for us to move faster, apply ourselves more and improve how things get done. And if there is any group that can move faster, better and get things done, then it's women.

We will ensure that our children and grandchildren grow up healthy. We will safeguard nature. We will assert ourselves on new growth markets. We women can do it. Indeed, we are indispensable to this task which spans the generations.

Dear friends,

We saw recently in Magdeburg where living in the past and intransigence can lead. The occasion was a meeting of the AfD, the party with the smallest share of women in the German Bundestag. The meeting was to discuss their manifesto for the upcoming European elections. A series of coronavirus dissidents and climate deniers were celebrated. They also discussed the party's plans for our Europe. I don't know how it was for you, but I couldn't believe my ears: ‘The EU must die' demanded one person on the extreme right. ‘Parts of the EU must just be abolished', added another. And one original motion even envisaged the ‘orderly dissolution of the EU'. One of the party leaders explained the motive: ‘We don't have value-driven politics, but interest-driven politics. We are clearly opposed to the sanctions against Russia.'

Dear friends,

This kind of speechifying is from those who don't know what they are talking about. It is thanks to our Europe that Germany is so free, affluent and surrounded by friends today. The EU‘s internal market makes Germany 132 billion euro richer – every year! For the young generations, Europe is their home country. There are no barriers in their minds when they travel, go to university, make friends, work and think. They can see the strength, friendship and security that Europe gives us. The coronavirus was not conquered by torch-wielding nationalists but by the unprecedented solidarity of all Europeans.

It is also thanks to Europe that the world's leading economic regions – Japan, Australia, South Korea, India and, of course, the US – are now doing their utmost to switch to climate-friendly production methods, and this has happened because we have acted decisively. We were the first to take serious measures through the European Green Deal, the roadmap und investment. And we have demonstrated that Europe can switch to clean technologies that reduce greenhouse gases and at the same time still grow.

And it was the European Union that took a clear stand after Russia's brutal invasion of Ukraine. Because we want the borders of sovereign states to mean something in this world. Because we want to see international law prevail, rather than cynical violence against elderly people, women and children. Because we want Ukraine to be able to decide about its future without fear or intimidation, going forward. The people of Ukraine have opted unequivocally for the rule of law and democracy. They want to join the European Union. They are fighting at the front. They are reforming their country. They are doing whatever they can to ensure that their children and grandchildren do not grow up in the shadow of the Kremlin but in the light of freedom and in a strong community. They are dreaming the European dream. They are fighting not just for their own freedom but also for our shared values. And they are doing that with incredible courage, with amazing bravery and with uncompromising resistance. Ukraine must win this war. And we will continue to support them, for as long as necessary. And I know that our European party takes the same strong position.

Dear friends,

Four years ago the European Council proposed Christine Lagarde for the post of President of the European Central Bank and me for President of the European Commission. Both firsts for women in these posts. On that occasion, Donald Tusk, the then President of the Council, said something that immediately went viral: ‘After all: Europe is a woman'. And there was a certain pinch of pride in the way he said it. Pride that his Europe had once again delivered. It delivered then on the great promise to be a ‘Union of equal opportunities' and an 'engine for equality'. I believe that Donald Tusk's instinct to emphasise that moment was right. Not because it was about Christine Lagarde or me, but because it was the moment when another of those heavy doors was pushed open, which is what the Women's Union has been fighting for tirelessly for the past 75 years. And those doors remain open.

I would like to take this opportunity to say once again how thankful I am to you all for your efforts in this area, and how wonderful it is to know that you are standing by me, and that the Women's Union is standing by the European Union.

Thank you, and long live Europe.