This is the moment for Europe to lead the way towards a new vitality

In her State of the Union speech, von der Leyen said it is necessary to move to qualified majority voting – at least on human rights and sanctions implementation

Photo: EU Ursula von der Leyen.

The pandemic - and the uncertainty that goes with it - is not over and the recovery is still in its early stage, said EC President Ursula von der Leyen in her first State of the Union speech, delivered to the European Parliament on Wednesday morning. This is the moment for Europe to lead the way from the current fragility towards a new vitality, she asserted.

She outlined the impact of the Commission’s work in mitigating the Covid-19 health and economic crisis, and presented her vision for economic recovery, the fight against climate change, the situation in Europe’s neighbourhood.

“We need to build a stronger European Health Union. To strengthen our crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats. And it is clearer than ever that we must discuss the question of health competences”, she said.  Europe must continue to protect lives and livelihoods and this is all the more important in the middle of a pandemic that shows no signs of running out of steam or intensity, von der Leyen explained.

“We know how quickly numbers can spiral out of control. So we must continue to handle this pandemic with extreme care, responsibility and unity.”

She also underscored that Europe has to become the first climate-neutral continent. “We are proposing to increase the 2030 target for emission reduction to at least 55%. I recognise this is too much for some and not enough for others. But our economy and industry can manage this.”

We must make this Europe's Digital Decade, she urged adding that is necessary a common plan for digital Europe with clearly defined goals for 2030, such as for connectivity, skills and digital public services. The right to privacy and connectivity, freedom of speech, free flow of data and cybersecurity are the clear principles to follow in this regard. The EU will invest 20% of NextGenerationEU on digital.

We want to lead the way, the European way, to the Digital Age: based on our values, our strength, our global ambitions.

“The investment boost through NextGenerationEU is a unique chance to drive expansion to every village. This is why we want to focus our investments on secure connectivity, on the expansion of 5G, 6G and fiber.”

On migration, she pointed out that this has always been a fact for Europe and it will always be. “As we all know, the 2015 migration crisis caused many deep divisions between Member States – with some of those scars still healing today.” The EC President announced that the Commission will put forward its New Pact on Migration next week. “Those countries who fulfil their legal and moral duties or are more exposed than others, must be able to rely on the solidarity of our whole European Union”, she said.

Stating that the rule of law helps protect people from the rule of the powerful, von der Leyen specified that before the end of the month, the Commission will adopt the first annual rule of law report covering all Member States.

Von der Leyen also emphasised that there is “a clear need for Europe to take clear positions and quick actions on global affairs”. What holds us back and why are even simple statements on EU values delayed, watered down or held hostage for other motives, she asked.

“When Member States say Europe is too slow, I say to them be courageous and finally move to qualified majority voting – at least on human rights and sanctions implementation." The EC President also stressed that the EP has called many times for a European Magnitsky Act. She announced that the Commission will now come forward with a proposal.

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