European Commission President: “I see a strong soul in everything we do”
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European Commission President: “I see a strong soul in everything we do”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen delivering the State of the Union speech on 15 September 2021. Credit: EU

President Ursula von der Leyen delivered on Wednesday morning her second State of the Union address in the European Parliament.

In her speech, she put the focus on Europe’s recovery from the coronavirus crisis and on what the EU needs to do for a lasting recovery delivering benefits to all – from health preparedness, to the social dimension, to technological leadership and a defence Union.

“This has also been a time of soul-searching,” she said, “from people reassessing their own lives to wider debates on sharing vaccines and on shared values,” possibly a nod to the Jewish Day of Atonement which starts on Wednesday evening and is a day of soul-searching and repentance.

She made reference to Robert Schuman – one of the Union’s founding fathers of the union – who said that Europe needs a soul, an ideal, and the political will to serve this ideal. “But as I look back on this past year, if I look at the state of the Union today, I see a strong soul in everything that we do,” von der Leyen said.

“In the biggest global health crisis for a century, we chose to do it together so that every part of Europe had the same access to a life-saving vaccine,” she said, referring to the recent achievement of the goal to vaccinate fully at least 70% of the adult population by Summer. Europe is the only region in the world to have achieved the double goal of vaccinating its own population and to already have shared half of its vaccine production with the rest of the world, according to the President.

She took the opportunity to announce that the Commission will donate a further 200 million doses by the middle of next year as an investment in solidarity and global health.

She also acknowledged for the first time the worrying disparity in vaccination rates among Member States, as reported by The Brussels Times.

”We need to keep up the momentum. And Europe is ready. We have secured an additional 1.8 billion doses. This is enough for us and our neighbourhood when booster shots are needed. Let’s do everything possible to ensure that this does not turn into a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

She also proposed a new health preparedness and resilience mission for the whole of the EU, backed up by Team Europe investment of €50 billion by 2027. “To make sure that no virus will ever turn a local epidemic into a global pandemic. There is no better return on investment than that.” 

She praised the EU digital certificate, proposed by the Commission in March this year. “Today more than 400 million certificates have been generated across Europe. 42 countries in 4 continents are plugged in.”

Other major achievements were the launch of the recovery package (NextGenerationEU) “in the deepest global economic crisis for decades” and the European Green Deal “in the gravest planetary crisis of all time”

“Last time it took 8 years for the Eurozone GDP to get back to pre-crisis levels,” she said. ”This time we expect 19 countries to be at pre-pandemic levels this year with the rest following next year. Growth in the eurozone outpaced both the US and China in the last quarter.”

“The good news is that with NextGenerationEU we will now invest in both short-term recovery and long-term prosperity. We will address structural issues in our economy: from labour market reforms in Spain to pension reforms in Slovenia or tax reform in Austria.”

She asserted that the EU “did a lot of things right” after the initial unpreparedness and lack of decision at the outbreak of the pandemic. “We moved fast to create SURE (the temporary support to unemployment schemes in Member States). This supported over 31 million workers and 2.5 million companies across Europe.”

The state of the union speech covers all major policy areas and upcoming legislative proposals. For the full text, click here.

The Brussels Times