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Ursula von der Leyen unveils the European Commission's priorities for 2021



           


In front of the MEPs, Ursula von der Leyen set the priorities for the European Commission for the year 2021 (photo: Etienne Ansotte/EC Audiovisual Service).
In front of the MEPs, Ursula von der Leyen set the priorities for the European Commission for the year 2021 (photo: Etienne Ansotte/EC Audiovisual Service).
EU. Ursula von der Leyen focused her first EU speech since her appointment in December 2019 at the European Parliament in Brussels on Wednesday 16 September 2020 on the EU's response to the health and economic crisis. "As individuals, we have shared some of our individual freedom for the safety of others. And as a Union, we have all shared part of our sovereignty for the common good. We have turned fear and divisions between Member States into confidence in our Union. We have shown what is possible when we trust each other and trust our European institutions", the President of the European Commission stressed.

Ursula von der Leyen insisted in particular on the implementation of the European recovery plan "NextGenerationEU", launched at the end of May 2020 and endowed with €750 billion. "We now have the opportunity to shape change rather than suffering it as a result of a disaster or a diktat from elsewhere. To emerge stronger from the ordeal by creating opportunities for tomorrow's world and not simply by making contingency plans for yesterday's world," she says.

In her address to MEPs, the president of the European Commission stressed five key points of the programme for 2021: The European Health Union, the protection of employees and companies against external shocks, the strengthening of Economic and Monetary Union, the 2050 objective of the Green Pact for Europe, the creation of a common plan for digital Europe.

90 bn to support employees and companies

"Europe must continue to protect lives and save jobs (...) We must build a stronger European Health Union," she said. This should include strengthening the role and powers of the European Medicines Agency and the ECDC (Centre for Disease Prevention and Control), creating an agency for advanced biomedical research and development at European level, as exists in the US, and reviewing the issue of EU health competences. Organised by the European Commission and the Italian presidency of the G20, a world health summit will take place in 2021 in Italy.

Ursula von der Leyen highlighted the SURE programme (Support to mitigate unemployment risks in emergency) adopted in April 2020. "If Europe has so far avoided the massive unemployment seen elsewhere, it is largely thanks to the short-time working schemes from which nearly 40 million people have benefited," she says. She also revealed that "this common objective will soon enable 16 countries to receive some €90 billion from the SURE programme to support employees and companies". The European Commission intends to put in place a framework for minimum wages. "Everyone should have access to a minimum wage, whether it is under a collective agreement or a statutory minimum wage," it says.

On the other hand, the president of the European Commission advocates stability of economies: "We have authorised more than 3 trillion euros in aid for business and industry: from fishermen in Croatia and farmers in Greece, to Smes in Italy and the self-employed in Denmark", she recalls, expecting a recovery of EU economies after a 12% drop in GDP in the second quarter of 2020. "But, like the virus, uncertainty persists - here in Europe and around the world. So now is certainly not the time to withdraw our support," she insists.

In the longer term, Ursula von der Leyen wants "a strengthening of Economic and Monetary Union (which) is the best way to ensure stability and competitiveness". Structural reforms of the economies, completion of the union of capital markets and banking union, strengthening the international role of the euro, will be the steps to achieve this.

A 55% emissions reduction target for 2030

The Green Pact for Europe was also of great importance in his speech. Europe wants to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. As a first step, the European Commission is proposing to raise the 2030 emission reduction target to at least 55% (from the 40% target), even though emissions have fallen by 25% since 1990 and the economy is growing by 60%. Achieving this new target will reduce our dependence on energy imports, create millions of additional jobs and cut air pollution by more than half. To get there, we need to start now," urges Ursula von der Leyen. 35% of NextGenerationEU's funding will be devoted to this Green Pact. "30% of NextGenerationEU's €750 billion will be raised through green bonds", she assures.

This programme will have to invest in flagship European projects with the greatest impact, such as hydrogen, the renovation of buildings (which generate 40% of our emissions) and the creation of one million electricity recharging stations.

"Europe must lead the way in the digital field, otherwise it will be forced to align itself with other players who will set these standards for us. This is why we need to act quickly". The Commission will therefore focus on three areas: data (80% of the industrial data collected is never used) with the creation of common data spaces, for example in the energy or healthcare sectors; technology and in particular artificial intelligence with a legislative instrument that will come into being in 2021 and a secure European electronic identity; infrastructure (40% of the inhabitants of rural areas still do not have access to a high-speed broadband connection) with an investment of €8 billion in the next generation of "made in Europe" supercomputers.

An economic recovery plan for the Western Balkans is in the pipeline

On the diplomatic chapter, Ursula von der Leyen referred to Turkey as "an important neighbour and always will be", while regretting that "although we are geographically close, the distance between us seems to be growing". She assured that "our Member States, Cyprus and Greece, will always be able to count on Europe's total solidarity to protect their legitimate sovereignty rights". Indicating that "de-escalation in the Eastern Mediterranean is in our mutual interest. In this respect, the return of the exploration vessels to Turkish ports in recent days is a step in the right direction".

On the other hand, the European Commission will "soon present an economic recovery plan for the Western Balkans, focusing on a number of regional investment initiatives," she unveiled.

"The future will be what we make of it. And Europe will be what we want it to be. So let's stop belittling it. And let's work to build it. To make it strong. And to build the world we want to live in. Long live Europe", concludes Ursula von der Leyen.


Frédéric Dubessy


Wednesday, September 16th 2020



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