State of the Union: President von der Leyen presents Commission priorities and upcoming initiatives at the European Parliament Plenary
Today, on 16 September 2020, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen gave her State of the Union Address at the Plenary of the European Parliament, presenting the Commission’s priorities for the upcoming months as well as announcing the main initiatives that it will be pushed forward in that regard.
President von der Leyen pledged that the Commission will drive a sustainable and transformational recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic that will give the EU a global platform to lead economically, environmentally and geopolitically. According to the Commission’s President, Next Generation EU represents a ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity to make change happen by design and to enable the EU to become green, digital and more resilient.
In particular, President von der Leyen stressed the following goals as the priorities of the Commission for the upcoming months:
(1) Protecting the health of citizens in Europe
The President called for lessons to be learned, saying Europe must build a stronger European health union, with a future-proof and properly funded EU4Health programme, a reinforced European Medicines Agency (EMA) and a strengthened European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). She also pledged to build a European agency for biomedical advanced research and development (BARDA) to enhance Europe’s capacity to respond to cross-border threats. The President further called for a debate on new competences for the EU in the field of health, as part of the forthcoming Conference on the Future of Europe.
(2) Protecting the stability of the EU’s economy and making the most of the single market
President von der Leyen stressed the importance of reinforcing Europe’s social market economy and of protecting workers and businesses from external shocks. She promised to put forward a legal framework for setting minimum wages. The President pledged action to boost the single market, reinforce the Economic and Social Union, get the Schengen area working in full again, update the EU’s industry strategy and adapt its competition framework.
(3) Reinforcing the European Green Deal and raising its ambitions
President von der Leyen announced that the Commission is proposing to increase the 2030 target for emissions reduction from 40% to 55%. This will put the EU on track for climate neutrality by 2050 and for meeting its Paris Agreement obligations. The Carbon Border Adjustment mechanism will help ensure others will follow Europe’s lead.
The President further announced that 30% of the Next Generation EU budget will be raised through green bonds, and that 37% of the funding will be invested in European Green Deal objectives, including ‘lighthouse’ European projects – hydrogen, green building and one million electric charging points.
(4) Leading the digital transformation, particularly on data, technology and infrastructure
In this area, President von der Leyen called for a common plan for digital Europe with clearly defined goals for 2030, such as for connectivity, skills and digital public services. She further announced that the EU will invest 20% of Next Generation EU’s budget on digital.
(5) Responding more assertively to global events and deepening the EU’s relations with its closest neighbours and global partners
The President called for the revitalisation and reform of the multilateral system, including the UN, WTO and WHO. She affirmed that the EU is ready to build a new transatlantic agenda with the United States and to reach a deal with the UK, provided it honours the Withdrawal Agreement, ‘a matter of law, trust and good faith’ on which the EU ‘will never backtrack’. The President pledged an economic recovery package for the Western Balkans and highlighted the importance of Europe’s relationship with Africa.
President von der Leyen further announced that the Commission will put forward a European Magnitsky act and urged Member States to embrace qualified majority voting on external relations, at least regarding human rights and sanctions implementation.
Finally, she expressed her commitment to use Europe’s diplomatic strength and economic clout to broker agreements that make a difference on ethical, human rights and environmental issues. She made clear that the EU wants a global agreement on digital taxation, but also that it will go it alone if that cannot be achieved.
(6) Taking a new approach to migration, remaining vigilant on the rule of law, and reinforcing the fight against racism and discrimination
Turning to migration, President von der Leyen announced that next week the Commission will put forward its New Pact on Migration, with an approach based on humanity, solidarity and ‘a clear distinction between those who have the right to stay and those who do not’.
Concerning compliance with the rule of law, she confirmed that the Commission is adopting its first annual Rule of Law report covering all Member States by the end of September. She also pledged to ensure that EU funds are spent under rule of law safeguards.
In her State of the Union speech today, President von der Leyen further announced the Commission’s plans to present an European anti-racism action plan, to strengthen racial equality laws, and to extend the list of EU-level crimes to all forms of hate crime and hate speech, whether based on race, religion gender or sexuality. The Commission will also appoint its first ever anti-racism coordinator and it will put forward a strategy to strengthen LGBTQI rights and will push for mutual recognition of family relations in the EU.
Today’s State of the Union address is accompanied by a ‘Letter of Intent’ to European Parliament President David Sassoli and to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, as Germany holds the rotating Council Presidency. The letter sets out a list of actions the Commission intends to take over the following year by means of legislation and other initiatives, in order to deliver the objectives set out in the Address