Europeans want to finally leave this pandemic behind
The next 6 months will be crucial to ensure that NextGenerationEU delivers the transformation that Europe needsUrsula von der Leyen
In recent days, travelling through Member States because of NextGenerationEU, I had the opportunity to meet Europeans from all walks of life. I met passionate young women in Brussels, training to become coders in only seven months. I met stage designers at Cinecittà, near Rome. They weave together the time-tested traditional studio production with new digital technologies.
And I was privileged to meet doctors and medical personnel during my visit to Ljubljana last Thursday. They are the tireless and courageous frontline workers in our fight against COVID-19. I was deeply impressed by their energy and motivation and also by their commitment to our common future. They all welcomed the investments made available by NextGenerationEU. This recovery programme is going to frame our action during the Slovenian Presidency. Europeans want to finally leave this pandemic behind. And all of us are there to help them achieve exactly that.
First and foremost our vaccination campaign remains crucial. The good news is: It is finally turning into a success story. Our perseverance has paid off. In April we were still 25% behind the United States in terms of adults administered at least one shot. Today the gap is down to 5%, and closing.
But let us not fool ourselves. The rate of vaccination varies significantly between Member States. The Delta variant is spreading. And too many vaccine doses are lying unused in fridges. We have to double down our efforts to convince Europeans to get vaccinated. Vaccinations mean protection. Vaccinations mean freedom. The living proof for that is the fact that 250 million Europeans have now downloaded their EU Digital Certificates. This is a huge success. Europe is delivering. And we will work intensively with the Slovenian Presidency to consolidate these successes.
This is also true when it comes to our economic recovery. In recent weeks, we raised EUR 35 billion on the capital markets. They were massively oversubscribed. This will not only allow the pre-financing to be disbursed quickly. This also demonstrates the profound trust investors have in Europe. Now we are fully ready. And I know I can count on the Slovenian Presidency to approve as many national plans as possible before end of July.
The next six months are going to be crucial to ensure that NextGenerationEU delivers the transformation that Europe needs. We have now assessed 14 plans. And there are many more to come. The good news is that Europeans are investing like never before in education and skills, in labour market reforms and in affordable and energy-efficient housing.
Up until now, EUR 45 billion alone will be spent on education, upskilling and reskilling. This builds the bridge for Europeans to thrive in the labour markets of the future. In addition, EUR 15 billion have been earmarked to increase the efficiency of public employment services. This time, we will get out of this crisis together. We will modernise our economies and we will leave nobody behind.
This is what Europeans expect from us and the Slovenian Presidency: to work together, despite our differences, in order to deliver results for each and every European. And the Commission is ready to do this. But the way of how we leave this crisis behind, is also linked to the question of trust. Trust, investors and businesses can have in good governance. Trust, that sound measures to fight corruption and fraud are in place. Trust in free media and independent courts. This is also important for European taxpayers because they ultimately finance our recovery.
Therefore, I call on the Slovenian government to continue the important work on the rule of law files. We will present the second edition of our Rule of Law Reports in the coming weeks. In these Reports, we scrutinise the situation in each and every Member State according to the same criteria. And I look forward to the discussions on these Reports. Because our last meeting with Leaders demonstrated how central values and the rule of law are. And tomorrow, in our debate on the last European Council, we will discuss on how to best defend our values and the EU's financial interests.
Slovenia is also a bridge to the Western Balkans. I therefore welcome that Slovenia, in its Presidency, wishes to focus on Europe's relationship with this region. I am sure that the European Union summit with the Western Balkans in October will send an important signal to the countries concerned: that they are key strategic partners for the European Union.
I hope that together with the Slovenian Presidency, we can vitalise the accession process of Albania and North Macedonia. This is in our own interest. And it is a question of credibility. Because for Europe a promise made must be a promise kept. Slovenia knows how important this is.
In 2008, Slovenia was the first of the new Member States, to take on the EU Presidency. Back then, 13 years ago, you, Prime Minister Janša, were serving as Prime Minister for your country for the first time. And some might still remember the remarkable speech you held right here in this hemicycle. You reminded the Members of the European Parliament that people who were not born in the EU have a very special relationship to our Union. ‘For us', you said, and I quote: ‘For us, the European Union is not something to be taken for granted. We are prepared to do everything to ensure that the European Union is preserved, developed and strengthened.'
To preserve, to develop and to strengthen our Union. This noble task is an obligation for all of us – in the next six months and beyond. To preserve our values – values like diversity, the freedom of the media and the rule of law. To strengthen our resilience and build a more sustainable Europe. And to develop the tools our Union needs to be better equipped for the challenges that lie ahead. For this task, Prime Minister Janša, you can count on me and the Commission. And in this spirit I once again welcome Slovenia to the helm of our Union. Long live Europe.
Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the presentation of the programme of activities of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU, 6 July 2021.