EU-Commission President Ursula von der Leyen drew a successful balance sheet of the Corona crisis in her address on the State of the European Union and announced several new initiatives for the coming year. For example, products that come from forced labor are to be banned in Europe. “Human rights cannot be bought – for no money in the world,” she said on Wednesday in the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Von der Leyen announced an initiative to eliminate the semiconductor shortage in Europe and to make the EU a leader in this field again. Women are to be better protected against violence with a new legislative proposal; it is about effective law enforcement, prevention and protection, both online and offline. After the Afghanistan debacle, the Commission President placed particular emphasis on building a European Defense Union. She suggested setting up a joint EU situation center and exempting the purchase of European armaments from VAT.
Von der Leyen emphasized that the EU had asserted itself through a joint effort in the pandemic. The goal of fully vaccinating 70 percent of adults was achieved, even though “we were the only ones who shared half of our vaccine production with the rest of the world”. 700 million vaccine doses were delivered to the Europeans and to the rest of the world. She also named the 750 billion euros in corona reconstruction aid and the rapid introduction of a digital Covid certificate as successes. “Europe acted in a joint effort, while the rest of the world was still discussing,” she said to the applause of MEPs.
“Accelerate vaccination all over the world”
The first priority is now to “accelerate vaccination all over the world”. In addition to the 250 million vaccine doses already announced that the EU wants to donate, the Commission will now provide another 200 million doses free of charge, announced von der Leyen. In Europe there are enough doses for booster vaccinations. In addition, the establishment of a health union will be promoted. This applies in particular to the creation of a new agency called Hera, which will accelerate the response to health crises and make Europe more independent. This project, based on the model of the American authority Barda, was first presented by von der Leyen last year.
In the field of digitization, the President placed the focus on the production of computer chips, without which there would be no digital product. Europe has fallen behind here, is now suffering from a shortage of semiconductors and is dependent on deliveries from Asia. “That’s why it’s not just a question of our competitiveness. It is also a question of technological sovereignty, ”she said and announced a legislative proposal. However, it remained unclear how the Commission intends to create “a high-quality European chip ecosystem” that includes production.
With regard to climate protection, von der Leyen urged further efforts to finance adaptation to climate change. The international community had agreed on a fund that is to be filled with one hundred billion euros every year until 2025 to support poorer countries. The EU is already paying a quarter of this sum, and von der Leyen has promised another four billion euros by 2027. “But we expect the United States and our partners to increase their pledges too,” she added.
“Era of Increased Competition” in Security Policy
The foreign and security policy part of her speech was based on an “era of increased competition”, which was shaped by the rivalry between the great powers. The recent events in Afghanistan are a symptom of these changes. Von der Leyen promised the Afghans further humanitarian aid of 100 million euros and announced a support package for the next few weeks.
In security policy, she emphasized the partnership with NATO on the one hand, and the need for more European independence on the other. A new situation and analysis center is about bringing together information from the Member States. According to von der Leyen, the EU does not currently have such a complete picture of what stands in the way of the use of military capabilities. With the proposal to exempt European armaments from VAT, the Commission President wants to strengthen the armaments industry and promote the networking of the armed forces.
However, the Commission has only limited options for action in these areas. Von der Leyen announced a summit on European defense for the first half of 2022, together with French President Emmanuel Macron, who will then lead the Council Presidency.