European Commission (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen gave her last State of the EU speech of her current mandate earlier this morning (13 September), detailing the future of the bloc.
The IOE&IT Daily Update brings you five key takeaways from today’s speech.
Green new deal
The environment featured heavily in von der Leyen’s address.
“Four years ago, the green deal was our answer to the call of history,” said the EC chief, referencing the damage and chaos caused by wildfires and floods as a reminder of the “reality of a boiling planet”.
The European Green Deal was created to handle this, she said, with the intention to shift the environmental imperative of climate change towards an economic one.
“Europe's industry is showing every day that it is ready to power this transition, proving that modernisation and decarbonisation can go hand in hand.”
“We will keep supporting European industry throughout this transition. They can rely on that.”
As part of this, she announced a number of packages, including a European Wind Power package and a series of Clean Transition Dialogues with industry.
“From wind to steel, from batteries to electric vehicles, our ambition is crystal clear: The future of our clean tech industry has to be made in Europe.”
Addressing concerns about the future of European industry, von der Leyen also promised the opening of an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles (EVs) coming from China.
“We have not forgotten how China's unfair trade practices affected our solar industry.
“Many young businesses were pushed out by heavily subsidised Chinese competitors, pioneering companies had to file for bankruptcy, promising talents went searching for fortune abroad.”
However, she stressed the need to keep “open lines” of communication with Beijing, echoing the position set out in the EU Foresight publication earlier this year:
“De-risk, not decouple – this will be my approach with the Chinese leadership at the EU-China Summit later this year.”
Friends and allies
During the speech, von der Leyen referenced a need for common European unity. She also called for the EU to bring in new members, including Ukraine and other neighbouring countries in the Western Balkans.
“This House has said it out loud: the future of Ukraine is in our Union.
“The future of the Western Balkans is in our Union. The future of Moldova is in our Union.”
There was a distinct lack of reference to the UK or the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) concluded under president von der Leyen's watch, marking a recognition that Brussels may have moved on.
In recent years, the EU has looked to include new trade agreements as part of its foreign policy toolkit, having signed deals recently with Chile, New Zealand and Kenya.
“We should aim to complete deals with Australia, Mexico and Mercosur by the end of this year, and soon thereafter with India and Indonesia.”
As the war in Ukraine looks to continue into the winter, von der Leyen re-emphasised her support for Kiev.
The EC president said critical minerals and a changing energy strategy would play a role in both foreign policy and the wider net zero transition.
Von der Leyen referenced recent global supply chain issues caused by “the deliberate policies of other countries”.
“Just think about China's export restrictions on gallium and germanium – which are essential for goods like semiconductors and solar panels.
“This shows why it is so important for Europe to step up on economic security.”
Repeating her comments on “de-risking and not de-coupling”, the former German defence minister said that she wanted to work with other countries to work together and reduce dependence on single suppliers of many critical minerals.
Many states are looking to not only mine but also refine commodities like cobalt and lithium inside their own borders.
“This is why later this year we will convene the first meeting of our new Critical Raw Materials Club.”
The EC president ended her speech with the cry: “Think big and write our own destiny!”
Von der Leyen has not yet announced if she will stand again after the 2024 European Parliamentary elections.
A pair of of her commissioners have left the position in recent weeks. Competition chief Margrethe Vestager stepped aside in order to campaign for the European Investment Bank CEO position and environment chief Frans Timmermans, who resigned last month to run for prime minister in his native Netherlands.
Although there was nothing concrete in terms of re-election, the speech was policy-heavy speech and hinted at a packed agenda for the coming six years.
Commenting on the speech, IOE&IT director of EU public affairs Fergus McReynolds said “it was welcome to hear the EU Commission President highlight that international trade delivers good jobs and prosperity and reaffirm the commitment to open and fair trade.”
Having recently opened a new office in Brussels IOE&IT is ready to help European businesses, big and small, to maximise the benefits of international trade and work with the EU to lower barriers to trade in essential global supply chains.