The woman nominated to head the EU Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has pledged to launch a “green deal for Europe” to curb climate change.
Ms von der Leyen has set out her agenda in the European Parliament ahead of a key vote on her candidacy.
The outgoing German defence minister needs a majority to take charge.
On Brexit, she said “I stand ready for a further extension of the [UK] withdrawal date, should more time be required for a good reason”.
MEPs reacted with a mixture of applause and boos.
“In any case the UK will remain our ally, our partner and our friend,” she said, defending the existing withdrawal deal, reached with Prime Minister Theresa May but rejected by the UK Parliament, which the EU has vowed not to reopen.
The UK is currently scheduled to leave the EU on 31 October.
If she wins the vote in Strasbourg on Tuesday evening, she will replace EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on 1 November. She is a centre-right politician close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Push for climate investment
On climate change, she said “I will propose a sustainable Europe investment bank”, to unlock substantially more investment in renewable energy and other measures over the next decade.
The new “green deal” – promised within Ms von der Leyen’s first 100 days – would aim to make the EU carbon neutral by 2050, whereby carbon pollution is balanced by green measures such as planting trees.
“It means change – all of us will have to contribute… in the way each of us travels and lives. Emissions must have a price that changes our behaviour,” she said.
She also called for a “carbon border tax to avoid carbon leakage” – the practice of moving polluting industries to less regulated countries.
The Commission drafts EU laws and enforces EU rules, with power to impose fines on member states if necessary.
Ms von der Leyen said the EU’s current target of cutting carbon emissions by 40% by 2030 was not enough. The goal should be 50%, if not 55%, she said.
The MEPs’ confirmation vote could be close, as some left-wingers and Greens will oppose her. She was not one of the top candidates put before the European electorate in May.
She made the bulk of her 43-minute speech in English, but there were passages in French and German too – part of her pitch to represent the whole of Europe.
Born in Brussels, she has seven children and trained as a gynaecologist before entering politics.
She promised a big push for the EU to play a bigger role in social welfare, to alleviate poverty, and stressed that she would stand up for women’s rights.
“If not enough female commissioners are proposed I’ll not hesitate to ask for new names,” she said. Each of the 28 member states has a commissioner in Brussels.