SOTEU 2020
SOTEU 2020

State of the Union Address 2020

By European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen
European Parliament, 16 September 2020

Edited by Andy Ross

A virus laid bare the strains on our health systems and the limits of a model that values wealth above wellbeing. It brought into sharper focus the planetary fragility that we see every day through melting glaciers and burning forests.

This is the moment for Europe to lead the way toward a new vitality. As individuals, we have all sacrificed a piece of our personal liberty for the safety of others. And as a Union, we all shared a part of our sovereignty for the common good. We showed what is possible when we trust each other and trust our European institutions.

This is our opportunity to make change happen by design, not by disaster or by diktat from others in the world. We have everything we need to make this happen. We have the vision, we have the plan, we have the investment.

Our unique social market economy is above all a human economy that protects us against the great risks of life. It offers stability and helps us better absorb shocks. It creates opportunity and prosperity by promoting innovation, growth, and fair competition.

We need to build a stronger European Health Union. We need to strengthen our crisis preparedness and management of cross-border health threats. We will build a European BARDA, an agency for biomedical advanced research and development.

The Commission has created the SURE programme to keep people in jobs, skills in companies, and SMEs in business. Europe has so far avoided mass unemployment thanks in large part to the fact that around 40 million people applied for short-time work schemes: 16 countries will soon receive almost €90 billion from SURE to support workers and companies.

In our Union the dignity of work must be sacred, but for too many people, work no longer pays. Dumping wages destroys the dignity of work, penalises the entrepreneur who pays decent wages and distorts fair competition in the Single Market.

The Commission will put forward a legal proposal to support member states to set up a framework for minimum wages. Everyone must have access to minimum wages. A minimum wage secures jobs and creates fairness, both for workers and for the companies who really value them.

The second promise of the social market economy is stability. The EU and its member states responded to an unprecedented crisis by freeing up European funds and State aid rules, authorising more than €3 trillion in support to companies and industry. The European Central Bank took decisive action.

Europe has put in place common tools to complement national fiscal stabilisers. This is an achievement that we should take collective pride in. We can expect our economies to start moving again after a 12% drop in GDP in the second quarter.

In the longer term, there is no greater way to stability and competitiveness than through a stronger Economic and Monetary Union. Confidence in the euro has never been stronger. We must now use this opportunity to make structural reforms in our economies and complete the Capital Markets Union and the Banking Union.

The Single Market is all about the opportunity to make the most of the freedoms we cherish as Europeans. It gives our companies the scale they need to prosper and is a safe haven for them in times of trouble. We rely on it every day to make our lives easier. We must tear down the barriers of the Single Market and cut red tape.

We need a fully functioning Schengen area of free movement. We will work with Parliament and member states to bring this high up our political agenda and we will propose a new strategy for the future of Schengen.

Based on this strong internal market, the European industry has long powered our economy, providing a stable living for millions and creating the social hubs around which our communities are built. We will update our industry strategy in the first half of next year and adapt our competition framework.

As we pull through together, we must also meet the urgent need for acceleration on the future of our fragile planet. The climate continues to get dangerously hotter. We need green spaces and cleaner air for our mental health and our physical wellbeing.

The European Green Deal is our blueprint to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The European Commission is proposing to increase the 2030 target for emission reduction to at least 55%. Meeting this target would put the EU firmly on track for climate neutrality by 2050 and for meeting our Paris Agreement obligations.

The 2030 target is ambitious, achievable, and beneficial for Europe. While emissions dropped 25% since 1990, our economy grew by more than 60%. We are already embarking towards a circular economy with carbon neutral production.

We have a solemn promise to leave no one behind in this transformation. With our Just Transition Fund, we will support the regions that have a bigger and more costly change to make. Meeting this new target will reduce our energy import dependency, create millions of extra jobs, and more than halve air pollution.

Our current levels of consumption of raw materials, energy, water, food, and land use are not sustainable. We need to change how we treat nature, how we produce and consume, live and work, eat and heat, travel and transport. We will tackle everything from hazardous chemicals to deforestation to pollution.

Our European Green Deal also takes green financing to the next level. We are world leaders in green finance and the largest issuer of green bonds worldwide. We are leading the way in developing a reliable EU Green Bond Standard.

We should invest in hydrogen, renovation, and 1 million electric charging points. New European Hydrogen Valleys will modernise our industries, power our vehicles, and bring new life to rural areas. The construction sector can be turned from a carbon source into a carbon sink. Our Union can be a leader in the circular economy.

We will use digital technologies to build a healthier, greener society. Modern technology has allowed young people to learn remotely and millions to work from home. It enables companies to sell their products, factories to keep running, and government to deliver crucial public services from afar.

We need a common plan for digital Europe with clearly defined goals for 2030. And we need to follow clear principles: the right to privacy and connectivity, freedom of speech, free flow of data, and cybersecurity. Europe must now lead the way on digital.

On personalised data, Europe has been too slow and is now dependent on others. This cannot happen with industrial data. Here Europe is in the lead. The amount of industrial data in the world will quadruple in the next five years, and so will the opportunities that come with it.

A real data economy can be a powerful engine for innovation and new jobs. We need common data spaces in the energy and healthcare sectors. This will support innovation ecosystems in which universities, companies, and researchers can access and collaborate on data. We will build a European cloud.

Artificial intelligence will open up new worlds for us. But this world also needs rules. We want a set of rules that puts people at the centre. The Commission will propose a law to this effect next year.

This includes control over our personal data. Every time an app or website asks us to create a new digital identity or to easily log on via a big platform, we have no idea what happens to our data. The Commission will soon propose a secure European e-identity that any citizen can use anywhere in Europe to do anything from paying taxes to renting a bicycle.

We want European industry to develop our own next-generation microprocessor that will allow us to use increasing data volumes energy-efficient and securely. This is about giving Europe more control over its future. We want to lead the way to the Digital Age based on our values, our strength, our global ambitions.

The pandemic has shown both the fragility of the global system and the importance of cooperation to tackle collective challenges. In the face of the crisis, some around the world choose to retreat into isolation or destabilise the system. Europe chooses to reach out.

Our leadership is not about Europe First. In the pandemic, none of us will be safe until all of us are safe. The EU stepped up to lead the global response. We brought more than 40 countries together to raise €16 billion to finance research on vaccines, tests, and treatments for the whole world.

The EU has joined the COVAX global facility and contributed €400 million to help ensure that safe vaccines are available not only for those who can afford it, but for everyone who needs it. Vaccine nationalism puts lives at risk. Vaccine cooperation saves them.

With a strong World Trade Organisation, we can ensure fair competition for all. But we need to revitalise and reform the multilateral system. We want change by design, not by destruction. I want the EU to lead reforms of the WTO and WHO.

The relationship between the EU and China is important and challenging. China is a negotiating partner, an economic competitor, and a systemic rival. We have interests in common on issues such as climate change. We continue to have an unbalanced trade and investment partnership. We promote very different systems of governance and society.

Europe must deepen and refine its partnerships with its friends and allies. We need new beginnings with old friends on both of sides of the Atlantic and on both sides of the Channel.

Negotiations with the UK have not progressed as we would have wished. The Withdrawal Agreement took three years to negotiate and we worked relentlessly on it. The result guarantees our citizens' rights, financial interests, the integrity of the Single Market, and the Good Friday Agreement. The agreement has been ratified by both parliaments and cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded, or disapplied. This a matter of law, trust, and good faith.

Europe will always be ready to build strong partnerships with our closest neighbours. We will soon present an economic recovery package for the Western Balkans focusing on a number of regional investment initiatives. And we will also be there for the Eastern Partnership countries and our partners in the southern neighbourhood.

We will use our diplomatic strength and economic clout to broker agreements that make a difference. We will form ambitious coalitions on issues such as digital ethics or fighting deforestation. We will work for just globalisation and insist on a level playing field.

We are working on a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism to motivate foreign producers and EU importers to reduce their carbon emissions, while ensuring that we level the playing field in a WTO-compatible way.

On digital taxation, we will spare no effort to reach agreement in the framework of OECD and G20. But should an agreement fall short of a fair tax system that provides sustainable revenues, Europe will come forward with a proposal early next year.

The Commission will put forward a new pact on migration. We will take a human and humane approach. Those countries who fulfil their legal and moral duties or are more exposed than others, must be able to rely on EU solidarity.

We will ensure a closer link between asylum and return. We have to make a clear distinction between those who have the right to stay and those who do not. We will take action to fight smugglers, strengthen external borders, deepen external partnerships and create legal pathways. And we will make sure that people who have the right to stay are integrated and made to feel welcome.

The rule of law helps protect people from the rule of the powerful. It is the guarantor of our most basic of everyday rights and freedoms. It allows us to express our opinions and be informed by a free press.

The Commission attaches the highest importance to the rule of law. We have a duty to always be vigilant to care and nurture for the rule of law. Breaches of the rule of law cannot be tolerated.

We propose to extend the list of EU crimes to all forms of hate crime and hate speech. No one should have to put up with hate. We will strengthen our racial equality laws where there are gaps. We will use our budget to address discrimination in areas such as employment, housing or healthcare.

The Commission will soon put forward a strategy to strengthen LGBTQI rights. I will also push for mutual recognition of family relations in the EU. If you are parent in one country, you are parent in every country.

This year, Europe took a leap forward together. We used the combined strength of the 27 to give all 27 a chance for the future. We are in this together and we will get out of this together.

AR Long live Europe!


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