On 15 September, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivered her second ‘State of the Union 2021’ address during the plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
In her speech, President von der Leyen focused on the main achievements of the Commission over the last year, addressing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic together with a list of ambitious goals to re-launch the Union’s economy, focusing on digitalization and decarbonization. The Commission aims to close the climate finance gap, calling on global partners like the US and China to take serious commitments. Among the Commission’s priorities, von der Leyen referred specifically to the ambition of the block decreasing CO2 emissions by at least 55% by 2030. She stressed that Europe cannot act alone stating that “the COP26 in Glasgow will be a moment of truth for the global community.” In this light, the President said that the EU would propose an additional €4 billion in climate financing until 2027.
Furthermore, President von der Leyen announced a new connectivity strategy called Global Gateway partnerships, which would enhance investments in quality infrastructure, connecting goods, people and services around the world.
“We want to create links – and not dependencies!”
In the same vein, von der Leyen emphasized the importance of the European strategy to boost the digital transformation and match the digital 2030 goals, stating that “digital is the make-or-break issue […] So this is not just a matter of our competitiveness. This is also a matter of tech sovereignty. So, let’s put all of our focus on it.”
As part of the digital agenda, she announced two new initiatives to be published in the upcoming months. Firstly, the new European Chips Act, which aims to create new markets for ground-breaking European tech. Secondly, the European Cyber Resilience Act with the goal to enhance the capability to address cyber threats. Also, President von der Leyen announced further investments in digital infrastructures, like the expansion of 5G and fibre as well as boosting digital skills.
These initiatives are all aimed at protecting the future of the young generation, therefore, President von der Leyen declared 2022 to be the Year of the European Youth. In this context, the Commission will put in place a new program to help young Europeans to find temporary jobs in other EU countries, called ALMA.
Overall, President von der Leyen was confident about the future of the EU when facing all the challenges ahead.
After the State of the European Union, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) reacted to the Commission President’s speech. Manfred Weber, President of the European People’s Party (EPP) welcomed the Commission’s plan to boost the European economy and to invest in particular in new opportunities, like sustainable mobility that would create new jobs. In this light, he said that close cooperation with the United States was key and proposed to establish an EU-US trade emergency program.
On the other hand, the Socialists & Democrats (S&D) were more critical and called, together with the Greens/EFA, for further ambition on the climate strategy and biodiversity legislation. The Greens/EFA went even further criticizing the Commission for taking only half measures and stressed that achieving the Green Deal goals was at stake.
On 19 October, the Commission will present its work program for 2022 outlining upcoming priorities and both legislative as well as non-legislative proposals.