Health

EU’s von der Leyen gives maiden ‘State of the Union’ address

Issued on: 16/09/2020 – 07:59Modified: 16/09/2020 – 08:01

EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen championed plans to relaunch Europe's coronavirus-devastated economy through a green new deal Wednesday, in her annual State of the European Union address.

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The EU Commission chief painted a sober picture of the bloc grappling with a pandemic and the deepest recession in its history, but laid out ambitious goals to make the 27 nations more resilient for future crises.

Addressing EU lawmakers in Brussels, von der Leyen doubled down on the flagship goals she set out when she took office last December: action to protect the climate and a digital revolution.

She unveiled a plan to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030, up from an existing target of 40%, and called for greater investment in technology for Europe to compete more keenly with China and the United States.

The EU has been buffeted for years by crises, from the financial meltdown of 2008 to feuds over migration and the protracted saga of Britain's exit from the bloc.

Solidarity among the 27 member states frayed badly at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, when countries refused to share protective medical kit with those worst-affected and closed borders without consultation to prevent the spread of the virus.

The bloc's leaders also jousted for months over a joint plan to rescue their coronavirus-throttled economies.

But in July they agreed on a stimulus plan that paved the way for the European Commission to raise billions of euros on capital markets on behalf of them all, an unprecedented act of solidarity in almost seven decades of European integration.

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"In the last months we have rediscovered the value of what we hold in common," von der Leyen told MEPs in her speech on Tuesday. "We turned fear and division between member states into confidence in our union."

She added: "This is the moment for Europe to lead the way from this fragility towards a new vitality."

Green bonds

Von der Leyen, a 61-year-old medical doctor and conservative politician, took office in December as a compromise leader for the commission, the EU's executive branch.

Her legislative programme, in particular the post-Covid recovery plan laboriously approved in June, will require broad coalition support.

So far the main pro-EU, centrist factions in parliament have backed her, but the debate that follows her address on Wedneday is likely to underline the challenge of keeping the loose front together.

On Wednesday MEPs will make a purely consultative vote that should allow the Commission to borrow 750 billion euros on the markets for von der Leyen's "Next Generation EU" plan.

This, for the first time creates, a pool of common debt — shared between EU members, to lower borrowing costs for weaker members — a move that was long opposed by "frugal" northern states.

On Wednesday, von der Leyen acknowledged her proposal to cut EU greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% would divide European lawmakers and member states, who must approve the legally binding target, but disagree on how ambitious it should be.

"I recognise that this increase from 40 to 55 is too much for some, and not enough for others," she saRead More – Source