European State of the Union address: 'This is a war for our energy, our economy, and our future'

European State of the Union address: 'This is a war for our energy, our economy, and our future'
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen Credit: European Commission

In her annual State of the Union address, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a range of measures to handle the energy crisis. "Millions of Europeans need help," von der Leyen said at the European Parliament's plenary session in Strasbourg.

Key topics for the keenly-awaited speech were Russia's invasion of Ukraine as well as soaring inflation and energy prices squeezing both households and businesses. Whether the President would be able to offer tangible measures to tackle these issues was open to conjecture.

To reduce energy consumption, von der Leyen proposed that Member States cut electricity at peak hours.

Moreover, she proposed skimming off the profits of energy companies that produce nuclear and renewable energy, as they are not dependent on gas. This should deliver over €140 billion to Member States to use as a buffer against the consequences of high energy prices.

This plan had already been announced last week, when the EU announced five immediate moves to bring down energy prices.

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The Commission expects a solidarity contribution from the fossil fuel sector but added that these are temporary and emergency measures that the Commission is working to incorporate into proposed price caps.

Von der Leyen didn't delve further into the issue of price caps – something that Belgium's Prime Minister Alexander de Croo has pushed for, stressing on numerous occasions that these must be set at an EU level rather than by individual nations.

Reform of energy market and hydrogen bank

The Commission President did announce that she wants a "deep and comprehensive" reform of the electricity market and that the current energy crisis is an opportunity to pivot towards the green energy transition and reduce EU dependence on unreliable partners.

To speed up the transition, von der Leyen proposed a hydrogen bank that will help the EU buy hydrogen through using funds from the EU's Innovation Fund.

The Commission wants to produce 10 million tons of renewable hydrogen by 2030. Belgium has previously made clear its intention to become a hub for hydrogen and has started to invest in infrastructure to this end.

EU energy ministers will gather for a meeting on the last Friday of September to agree on proposals to tackle the energy crisis.

War in Ukraine

Olena Zelenska, wife of Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy, was present in Strasbourg for the speech and received a standing ovation at the start of the address. Von der Leyen announced that she will travel to Kyiv on Wednesday to speak with President Zelenskyy to discuss Ukraine's integration into the European international market, among other issues.

Von der Leyen devoted considerable airtime to stressing EU solidarity with Ukraine. Along with a number of Commissioners such as Margrethe Vestager, the President wore blue and yellow clothing in a show of unity with the invaded nation.

"This is not only a war unleashed by Russia against Ukraine," von der Leyen said, "This is a war on our energy, a war on our economy, a war on our values and a war on our future... This is about autocracy against democracy."

"I stand here with the conviction that with courage and solidarity, Putin will fail and Europe will prevail."

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