Von der Leyen's comments to the Paris Peace Forum came days after French
President Emmanuel Macron was quoted as saying in an interview that Europe was on the edge of a “precipice” due to a lack of collective political might.
The former German minister did not directly refer to the comments by Macron, who was also present at the forum. But she said she wanted the new commission “to be truly geopolitical in the way it thinks”.
“I want a more outward-looking European Union. A Europe which collectively defends our collective values and common interests in the world,” she said.
“I want to ensure that the European Union is well equipped to be truly geopolitical in the way that it thinks and acts, from foreign policy to trade to development cooperation, from humanitarian aid to security.”
The EU's External Action Service, the bloc's diplomatic arm, has been criticised by analysts for failing to punch its weight on the international stage, held back by differences between member states over the lack of a pan-European army.
Von der Leyen reaffirmed a pledge to increase spending on external action by 30 percent in the EU's next long-term budget.
“I want us to spend this money effectively and more strategically,” said Von der Leyen, who will take over from Jean-Claude Juncker when the new commission takes office.
Without naming specific countries, Von der Leyen complained that “existing powers are going down new paths alone” while “new powers are emerging, reemerging and consolidating” instead of working within the existing multilateral system.
In Macron's interview with The Economist, published on Thursday, the French leader said the EU had been brought “to the edge of a precipice” by a dwindling focus on political integration and the risk of the US and China emerging as the sole global powers.
“All this has led to the exceptional fragility of Europe which, if it can't think of itself as a global power, will disappear, because it will take a hard knock,” Macron said.