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Vulcan Insight | President von der Leyen presents 2021 State of the Union

On Wednesday morning, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented her political objectives for the coming year in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg. In her address, she touched on a broad range of political topics, focussing mostly on the climate, the economy and “Global Europe,” particularly military and defence capabilities. 

On the occasion of only the second European Parliament plenary in its Strasbourg home since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, President von der Leyen applauded the European Union’s success in tackling the socio-economic and health challenges brought about by the pandemic. While she warned that Europeans will face more “challenges of character” over the coming year, she celebrated her Commission’s achievement in vaccinating more than 70% of European adults and, as the only continent globally, helping to vaccinate the rest of the world.

Staying on the health policy front, President von der Leyen also announced the launch of the new European Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Authority (HERA) proposal as a central element for strengthening the European Health Union. In addition, the Commission aims to launch a new European Healthcare Strategy on the matter.

On the climate, the Commission President reflected on the events of the summer which, in her words, strongly explain and show why the climate crisis is a crisis and, as such, warrants strong action.

While she welcomed the European Parliament and Council taking up their work on the transformative “Fit for 55” climate and energy package, von der Leyen spent the majority of her time calling on the world’s economic powerhouses to finally move on from verbal commitments to implementing actions. In this context, she specifically called out the likes of US President Joe Biden, China and Japan to come to COP26 in November with clear proposals and actions.

On the economy, based on forecasts by Eurostat and the European Central Bank, she showed her optimism that some 19 EU Member States will return to pre-pandemic growth in 2021, with the rest achieving this by the end of 2022 – much faster than the eight years it took the EU to recover from the last financial crisis. For this, she heralded the NextGenerationEU Recovery and Investment Fund, which also ensures a focus on digital and green growth.

In the context of the 30th anniversary of the EU’s Single Market, she also stressed the need to finally complete the Digital Single Market and finalise the work on the Digital Services and the Digital Markets Acts to regulate how digital companies operate. However, she stressed that the focus cannot only be on regulating software, but that Europe must also address the economic realities of global supply chains on critical hardware. In this context, she argued that Europe’s overreliance on Asia-made semiconductors is a threat to the continent’s economy and sovereignty.

As such, she announced that the Commission would put forward a proposal for a European microchip ecosystem to re-shore their production and create an EU-based microchip ecosystem. Moreover, she also announced the creation of a new European Global Gateway Partnership to counteract China’s sprawling Silkroad project, and a forthcoming proposal on making supply chains free of forced labour. In addition, the Commission aims to propose banning products in our market that have been made by forced labour, according to Commission Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis.

In a reference to the recent events in Afghanistan, she announced that her Commission is in the process of working with NATO on a new joint declaration of cooperation and called on EU Member States to have a serious debate about overcoming the lack of political will holding back any serious developments on defence and military union.

In this context, to tackle the increasingly hybrid threats faced, she called for a joint European cyber policy under a new European cyber resilience act and a common European approach to tackling external security threats. For this, President von der Leyen announced that the French Presidency of the Council of the EU would hold a European Defence Summit in the first half of 2022.

Besides the speech, President von der Leyen sent a Letter of Intent to David Sassoli, the President of the European Parliament, and Prime Minister Janez Janša, as the Presidency of the Council, in which she detailed the actions the Commission intends to take in the following year by means of legislation and other initiatives.

European Green Deal:

  • Legislative proposal on integrated water management – surface and groundwater pollutants
  • Legislative proposal on carbon removal certification
  • Legislative proposal on the right to repair
  • Legislative proposal on an EU framework for harmonised measurement of transport and logistics emissions
  • Legislative proposal to reduce the release of microplastics in the environment and to restrict the addition of microplastics to products

Digital Europe:

  • European Cyber Resilience Act
  • European Chips Act
  • Roadmap on security and defence technologies
  • Legislative proposal on building an EU space-based global secure communication system
  • Review of competition policy: – fit for new challenges
  • Proposal for a Council Recommendation on improving the provision of digital skills
  • Legislative proposal on a Single Market Emergency Instrument
  • Legislative proposal on multimodal digital mobility services

Economy:

  • Legislative proposal to facilitate small and medium sized enterprises access to capital
  • Initiative on instant payments in the EU
  • Implementation of the Capital market Union Action Plan including the Initiative on harmonising certain aspects of substantive law on insolvency proceedings

Health:

  • European Care Strategy
  • Proposal to update the Council Recommendation on cancer screening

Others:

  • Legislative proposal on the obligation of carriers to communicate advance passenger data
  • Legislative proposal on a framework for reciprocal access to security-related information for front-line officers between the EU and key third countries to counter shared security threats

Compliments of Vulcan Consulting – a member of the EACCNY.