“It is time for Europe to lead the way from current fragility to a new vitality“. This is the idea force Around which Ursula von der Leyen has articulated her first speech on the state of the Union this Wednesday. A neat and detailed appearance before the plenary session of the European Parliament (an hour and a half) in which she has presented her agenda of legislative and political priorities for this course.
The president of the Commission admits that the pandemic has not yet been left behind, that a high degree of uncertainty about regrowth persists and that economic recovery is still in a preliminary stage. At the same time, this time the EU has done its homework. It has been able to overcome its divisions and give an unprecedented common response: the reconstruction fund of 750,000 million approved in July, it has boasted.
Von der Leyen now asks the governments of the 27 not to fall into complacency and focus on quickly putting decisions in motion so that money begins to flow as soon as possible to the countries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as Spain. The EU must take advantage of this unprecedented funding to take a big leap forward in the double digital and green transition and reinforce its social dimension. These are the key initiatives of Von der Leyen’s plan for the most immediate months.
A BIOMEDICAL INVESTIGATION AGENCY. “For me, it is very clear: we must build a stronger European Health Union.” Von der Leyen argues that one of the main lessons of the pandemic is that the EU must assume more competences in health matters and dedicate more funding to it. Its first step will be to strengthen the powers of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). In a second phase, the EU will launch a new biomedical research agency in the image of the one the US already has (Barda).
A FAIR MINIMUM WAGE THROUGHOUT THE EU. “Wage dumping destroys the dignity of work, penalizes employers who pay decent wages and distorts competition in the single market.” The president has confirmed her intention to present a legislative proposal in the coming weeks to set a fair minimum wage throughout the EU, which in any case respect the traditions of collective bargaining in each country. In economic matters, Von der Leyen has also asked the governments not to withdraw fiscal stimuli yet and has defended the completion of the banking union and the capital markets union.
INCREASE THE CUT IN EMISSIONS TO 55% BY 2030. “Although much of the world’s activity was frozen during lockdowns and quarantines, the planet has continued to warm dangerously.” To curb this trend, Brussels is proposing to raise the EU’s emissions cut target from 40% to 55% by 2030. That would ensure that Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The new goal is ambitious, achievable and beneficial for Europe, argues Von der Leyen. In addition, it has the support of large EU companies, including Acciona, Iberdrola, Inditex, Renfe or Telefónica.
GREEN BONDS. “We want to take green financing to the next level.” 37% of the € 750 billion reconstruction fund will have to be spent on objectives related to the European Green Deal. Regarding financing, the president has stated that the 30% of the funds (that is, 225 billion euros) will be raised through the issuance of green bonds, a field in which the EU is already a world leader. The Community Executive also wants to boost the hydrogen economy and create 1 million charging points for electric cars.
BAUHAUS DESIGN. “We need to give our systemic change its own distinctive aesthetic, pairing style with sustainability.” One of the priorities of the European Green Deal will be renovation of buildings across the EU, now generating 40% of emissions. But Von der Leyen argues that this is not just an environmental or economic project, it must also be a cultural project. That is why he has announced that he will launch a new “European Bauhaus”, referring to the influential design school founded by architect Walter Gropius in Germany in the 1920s. A space for joint creation in which architects, artists, engineers and designers work together in order to define this new aesthetic.
A EUROPEAN DIGITAL CLOUD. “This must be Europe’s digital decade. We must invest in digital sovereignty.” The president wants 20% of the $ 750 billion reconstruction fund to be dedicated to the digital transition. Its priorities are three: build a European cloud to store and process industrial data in sectors such as energy or health; promote a secure European digital identity that every citizen can use throughout the EU and invest in the deployment of 5G, 6G and fiber networks.
A MORE ASSERTIVE EUROPE IN THE WORLD. “There is a clear need for Europe to take clear positions and swift action in the international arena.” Von der Leyen wants Brussels to help reform and strengthen institutions such as the World Trade Organization (WTO) or the World Health Organization (WHO). At the same time, the EU must be firmer against the authoritarian drift of China, Russia or Turkey. The president has announced a Magnitsky law to punish those responsible for human rights violations and has demanded that these decisions be adopted by majority and not unanimously as now. Finally, she advocates a reconciliation with the United States, whoever wins the November 3 elections.
A FAIR GLOBAL TAX. “Carbon must have its price, because nature can no longer pay that price.” The EU will go ahead with its plan to create a border carbon tax that it will tax imports from countries that do not respect the Paris agreement against climate change and will do so in a way that is compatible with WTO rules, confirms Von der Leyen. Brussels also plans reactivate the rate for the digital giants at the beginning of 2021 if before the end of the year a global agreement is not reached in the OECD or in the G-20, a pact until now vetoed by the US.
A NEW MIGRATORY PACT. “The migration crisis of 2015 caused many deep divisions between member states and some of those wounds are still healing to this day.” The new Migration Pact is the most immediate initiative in Brussels, as it will be presented next week. Von der Leyen has not specified too much: your proposal will be based on strengthening the external borders, the fight against traffickers, agreements with countries of origin and transit and solidarity. Saving lives at sea is an obligation, but at the same time people who do not have the right to asylum must be repatriated, he argues.
AN ACTION PLAN AGAINST RACISM. “Hate is hate and no one has to bear it.” The shock wave from the latest racial protests in the United States has reached the EU this time, which wants to do examination of conscience of their own discrimination towards minorities. Brussels will propose to extend the EU crime list to cover all forms of hate crime and incitement to hatred and will appoint for the first time an anti-racism coordinator.
RECOGNIZING THE CHILDREN OF GAY COUPLES. “LGBTQI-free zones are humanity-free zones and have no place in our Union.” Von der Leyen has lashed out at municipalities and regions in Poland seeking to ban gay pride parades and other LGBT acts. The president announces a legislative initiative so that the children of gay couples are automatically recognized in all Member States, even those that do not accept homosexual marriage. In addition, he assures that he will continue to monitor respect for the rule of law in all EU countries, another reference without citing them to the abuses in Poland or Hungary.