2023 State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen. Answering the call of history
State of the Union Address by President von der Leyen
ANSWERING THE CALL OF HISTORY
INTRODUCTION – DELIVER TODAY, PREPARE FOR TOMORROW
In just under 300 days, Europeans will take to the polls in our unique and remarkable democracy.
As with any election, it will be a time for people to reflect on the State of our Union and the work done by those that represent them.
But it will also be a time to decide on what kind of future and what kind of Europe they want.
Among them will be millions of first-time voters, the youngest of whom were born in 2008.
As they stand in that polling booth, they will think about what matters to them.
They will think about the war that rages at our borders.
Or the impact of destructive climate change.
About how artificial intelligence will influence their lives.
Or of their chances of getting a house or a job in the years ahead.
Our Union today reflects the vision of those who dreamt of a better future after World War II.
A future in which a Union of nations, democracies and people would work together to share peace and prosperity.
They believed that Europe was the answer to the call of history.
When I speak to the new generation of young people, I see that same vision for a better future.
That same burning desire to build something better.
That same belief that in a world of uncertainty, Europe once again must answer the call of history.
And that is what we must do together.
This starts with earning the trust of Europeans to deal with their aspirations and anxieties.
And in the next 300 days we must finish the job that they entrusted us with.
When I stood in front of you in 2019 with my programme for a green, digital and geopolitical Europe I know that some had doubts.
And that was before the world turned upside down with a global pandemic and a brutal war on European soil.
But look at where Europe is today.
We have seen the birth of a geopolitical Union – supporting Ukraine, standing up to Russia's aggression, responding to an assertive China and investing in partnerships.
We now have a European Green Deal as the centrepiece of our economy and unmatched in ambition.
We have set the path for the digital transition and become global pioneers in online rights.
We have the historic NextGenerationEU – combining 800 billion euros of investment and reform – and creating decent jobs for today and tomorrow.
We have set the building blocks for a Health Union, helping to vaccinate an entire continent – and large parts of the world.
We have started making ourselves more independent in critical sectors, like energy, chips or raw materials.
I would also like to thank you for the ground-breaking and pioneering work we did on gender equality.
As a woman, this means a lot to me.
We have concluded files that many thought would be blocked forever, like the Women on Boards Directive and the historic accession of the EU to the Istanbul Convention.
There is not a single argument why – for the same type of work – a woman should be paid less than a man.
But our work is far from over and we must continue pushing for progress together.
I know this house supports our proposal on combating violence against women.
Here too, I would like that we cast into law another basic principle: No, means no.
There can be no True equality without freedom from violence.
And thanks to this Parliament, to Member States and to my team of Commissioners, we have delivered over 90% of the Political Guidelines I presented in 2019.
Together, we have shown that when Europe is bold, it gets things done.
And our work is far from over - so let's stand together.
Let's deliver today and prepare for tomorrow.
Four years ago, the European Green Deal was our answer to the call of history.
And this summer – the hottest ever on record in Europe – was a stark reminder of that.
Greece and Spain were struck by ravaging wildfires – and were hit again only a few weeks later by devastating floods.
And we saw the chaos and carnage of extreme weather – from Slovenia to Bulgaria and right across our Union.
This is the reality of a boiling planet.
The European Green Deal was born out of this necessity to protect our planet.
But it was also designed as an opportunity to preserve our future prosperity.
We shifted the climate agenda to being an economic one.
This has given a clear sense of direction for investment and innovation.
And we have already seen this growth strategy delivering in the short-term.
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 mark the launch of the first container ship, powered by clean methanol made with solar energy.
This is the strength of Europe's response to climate change.
The European Green Deal provides the necessary frame, incentives, and investment – but it is the people, the inventors, the engineers who develop the solutions.
And this is why, Honourable Members,
as we enter the next phase of the European Green Deal, one thing will never change.
We will keep supporting European industry throughout this transition.
We need to finish this work.
And with this, we need to develop an approach for each industrial ecosystem.
Therefore, starting from this month, we will hold a series of Clean Transition Dialogues with industry.
The core aim will be to support every sector in building its business model for the decarbonisation of industry.
Because we believe that this transition is essential for our future competitiveness in Europe.
But this is just as much about the people and their jobs of today.
Our wind industry, for instance, is a European success story.
But it is currently facing a unique mix of challenges.
This is why we will put forward a European Wind Power package – working closely with industry and Member States.
We will fast-track permitting even more.
We will improve the auction systems across the EU.
But this is broader than one sector:
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.
This shows that when it comes to the European Green Deal:
We stay the course.
We stay ambitious.
We stick to our growth strategy.
And we will always strive for a fair and just transition!
That means a fair outcome for future generations – to live on healthy planet.
And a fair journey for all those impacted – with decent jobs and a solemn promise to leave no one behind.
Our industry and tech companies like competition.
They know that global competition is good for business.
And that it creates and protects good jobs here in Europe.
But competition is only True as long as it is fair.
They are often undercut by competitors benefitting from huge state subsidies.
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.
This is why fairness in the global economy is so important – because it affects lives and livelihoods.
Entire industries and communities depend on it.
So, we have be to be clear-eyed about the risks we face.
Take the electric vehicles sector.
It is a crucial industry for the clean economy, with a huge potential for Europe.
But global markets are now flooded with cheaper Chinese electric cars.
And their price is kept artificially low by huge state subsidies.
This is distorting our market.
And as we do not accept this from the inside, we do not accept this from the outside.
So I can announce today that the Commission is launching an anti-subsidy investigation into electric vehicles coming from China.
Europe is open for competition. Not for a race to the bottom.
We must defend ourselves against unfair practices.
But equally, it is vital to keep open lines of communication and dialogue with China.
Because there also are topics, where we can and have to cooperate.
In the European Union, we are proud of our cultural diversity.
We are a ‘Europe of the Regions' with a unique blend of languages, music, art, traditions, crafts and cuisines.
We are also a continent of unique biological diversity.
Some 6 500 species are found only in Europe.
In northern Europe, we find the Wadden Sea, a world natural heritage site and unique habitat offering a home to rare species of flora and fauna and a vital resource for millions of migratory birds. And with the Baltic Seawe have the largest area of brackish sea in the world.
South of that is the European Plain, characterised by vast tracts of moorland and wetland.
These regions are important allies against ongoing climate change.
And Europe is a continent of forests.
From the mighty coniferous forests of the North and East, via the last remnants of virgin oak and beech forest in central Europe to the cork oak forests of southern Europe: all these forests are an irreplaceable source of goods and services.
They absorb carbon dioxide, supply wood and other products, generate fertile soils, and filter the air and the water.
We must protect it.
At the same time, food security, in harmony with nature, remains an essential task.
I would like to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to our farmers, to thank them for providing us with food day after day.
For us in Europe, this task of agriculture – producing healthy food – is the foundation of our agricultural policy.
And self-sufficiency in food is also important for us.
That is what our farmers provide.
It is not always an easy task, as the consequences of Russia's aggression against Ukraine, climate change bringing droughts, forest fires and flooding, and new obligations are all having a growing impact on farmers' work and incomes.
We must bear that in mind.
We must work together with the men and women in farming to tackle these new challenges.
That is the only way to secure the supply of food for the future.
We need more dialogue and less polarisation.
That is why we want to launch a strategic dialogue on the future of agriculture in the EU.
I am and remain convinced that agriculture and protection of the natural world can go hand in hand.
We need both.
ECONOMY, SOCIAL AND COMPETITIVENESS
This is the hallmark of this Mandate.
And it is all the more important as we face strong economic headwinds.
I see three major economic challenges for our industry in the year ahead: labour and skills shortages, inflation, and making business easier for our companies.
The first has to do with our labour market.
We have not forgotten the early days of the global pandemic.
When everyone predicted a new wave of 1930-style mass unemployment.
But we defied this prediction.
With SURE – the first-ever European short-time work initiative – we saved 40 million jobs.
This is Europe's social market economy in action.
And we can be proud of it!
We then immediately restarted our economic engine thanks to NextGenerationEU.
And today we see the results.
Europe is close to full employment.
Instead of millions of people looking for jobs, millions of jobs are looking for people.
In the peak of the tourist season, restaurants and bars in Europe are running reduced hours because they cannot find staff.
Hospitals are postponing treatment because of lack of nurses.
And two thirds of European companies are looking for IT specialists.
And 8 million young people are neither in employment, education or training.
Their dreams put on hold, their lives on stand-by.
This is not only the cause of so much personal distress.
It is also one of the most significant bottlenecks for our competitiveness.
Because labour shortages hamper the capacity for innovation, growth and prosperity.
So we need to improve access to the labour market.
Most importantly for young people, for women.
And we need qualified migration.
In addition, we need to respond to the deep-rooted shifts in technology, society and demography.
And for that, we should rely on the expertise of businesses and trade unions, our collective bargaining partners.
It is almost forty years since Jacques Delors convened the Val Duchesse meeting that saw the birth of European social dialogue.
Since then, social partners have shaped the Union of today – ensuring progress and prosperity for millions.
And as the world around us changes faster than ever, social partners must again be at the heart of our future.
The future of Europe will be built with and by our social partners.
The second major economic challenge: persistent high inflation.
We know that returning to the ECB's medium-term target will take some time.
The good news is that Europe has started bringing energy prices down.
Many thought, we would not have enough energy to get through the winter.
But we made it.
Because we stayed united – pooling our demand and buying energy together.
We used Europe's critical mass to bring prices down and secure our supply.
The third challenge for European companies is about making it easier to do business.
Small companies do not have the capacity to cope with complex administration.
Or they are held back by lengthy processes.
This often means they do less with the time they have – and that they miss out on opportunities to grow.
We want to hear directly from small and medium sized businesses, about their everyday challenges.
For every new piece of legislation we conduct a competitiveness check by an independent board.
And next month, we will make the first legislative proposalstowards reducing reporting obligations at the European level by 25%.
Let's be frank – this will not be easy.
And we will need your support.
Because this is a common endeavour for all European institutions.
So we also have to work with Member States, to match the 25% at national level.
It is time to make business easier in Europe!
But European companies also need access to key technologies to innovate, develop and manufacture.
This is a question of European sovereignty as the Leaders underlined in Versailles.
It is an economic and national security imperative to preserve a European edge on critical and emerging technologies.
This European industrial policy also requires common European funding.
This is why – as part of our proposal for a review of our budget – we proposed the STEP platform.
From biotech to clean tech.
Our companies need this support now – so I urge for a quick agreement on our budget proposal.
And there is more when it comes to competitiveness.
We have seen real bottlenecks along global supply chains, including because of the deliberate policies of other countries.
This shows why it is so important for Europe to step up on economic security.
By de-risking and not decoupling.
From Australia to Japan and the United States.
And many other countries around the world want to work together.
Many are overly dependent on a single supplier for critical minerals.
Others – from Latin America to Africa – want to develop local industries for processing and refining, instead of just shipping their resources abroad.
This is why later this year we will convene the first meeting of our new Critical Raw Materials Club.
At the same time, we will continue to drive open and fair trade.
So far, we have concluded new free trade agreements 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.
Smart trade delivers good jobs and prosperity.
So we need to look further ahead and set out how we remain competitive as we do that.
This is why I have asked Mario Draghi – one of Europe's great economic minds – to prepare a report on the future of European competitiveness.
DIGITAL & AI
When it comes to making business and life easier, we have seen how important digital technology is.
It is telling that we have far overshot the 20% investment target in digital projects of NextGenerationEU.
Member States have used that investment to digitise their healthcare, justice system or transport network.
The internet was born as an instrument for sharing knowledge, opening minds and connecting people.
All of this led to a lack of trust and a breach of fundamental rights of people.
In response, Europe has become the global pioneer of citizen's rights in the digital world.
This is a historic achievement – and we should be proud of it.
The same should be True for artificial intelligence.
It will improve healthcare, boost productivity, address climate change.
But we also should not underestimate the very real threats.
Hundreds of leading AI developers, academics and experts warned us recently with the following words:
“Mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war.”
AI is a general technology that is accessible, powerful and adaptable for a vast range of uses - both civilian and military.
And it is moving faster than even its developers anticipated.
So we have a narrowing window of opportunity to guide this technology responsibly.
Our number one priority is to ensure AI develops in a human-centric, transparent and responsible way.
This is why in my Political Guidelines, I committed to setting out a legislative approach in the first 100 days.
And I want to thank this House and the Council for the tireless work on this groundbreaking law.
We must now focus on adopting the rules as soon as possible and turn to implementation.
The second pillar is governance.
We are now laying the foundations for a single governance system in Europe.
But we should also join forces with our partners to ensure a global approach to understanding the impact of AI in our societies.
Think about the invaluable contribution of the IPCC for climate, a global panel that provides the latest science to policymakers.
I believe we need a similar body for AI – on the risks and its benefits for humanity.
With scientists, tech companies and independent experts all around the table.
This will allow us to develop a fast and globally coordinated response – building on the work done by the Hiroshima Process and others.
The third pillar is guiding innovation in a responsible way.
We need to capitalise on this.
But this will only be part of our work to guide innovation.
We need an open dialogue with those that develop and deploy AI.
It happens in the United States, where seven major tech companies have already agreed to voluntary rules around safety, security and trust.
GLOBAL, MIGRATION AND SECURITY
When I stood here four years ago, I said that if we are united on the inside, nobody will divide us from the outside.
And this was the thinking behind the Geopolitical Commission.
Our Team Europe approach has enabled us to be more strategic, more assertive and more united.
And that is more important than ever.
Europe will always stand ready to support in any way we can.
Or think about the Sahel region, one of the poorest yet fastest growing demographically.
The succession of military coups will make the region more unstable for years ahead.
Russia is both influencing and benefiting from the chaos.
This is of direct concern for Europe – for our security and prosperity.
So we need to show the same unity of purposetowards Africa as we have shown for Ukraine.
We need to focus on cooperation with legitimate governments and regional organisations.
And we need to develop a mutually beneficial partnership which focuses on common issues for Europe and Africa.
History is on the move.
This has raised immense concerns in countries from Central Asia to the Indo-Pacific.
They are worried that in a lawless world, they might face the same fate as Ukraine.
We see a clear attempt by some to return to bloc thinking – trying to isolate and influence countries in between.
And it comes at a time when there is a deeper unease by many emerging economies about the way institutions and globalisation work for them.
Those concerns are legitimate.
These emerging economies – with their people and natural assets – are essential allies in building a cleaner, safer and more prosperous world.
Europe will always work with them to reform and improve the international system.
We want to lead efforts to make the rules-based order fairer and make distribution more equal.
This will also mean working with new and old partners to deepen our connections.
And Europe's offer with Global Gateway is truly unique.
Global Gateway is more transparent, more sustainable, and more economically attractive.
Just last week I was in New Delhi to sign the most ambitious project of our generation.
The India-Middle East-Europe Economic Corridor.
With an electricity cable and a clean hydrogen pipeline – to foster clean energy trade between Asia, the Middle East and Europe.
These are state-of-the-art connections for the world of tomorrow.
Faster, shorter, cleaner.
And Global Gateway is making the real difference.
These are investments in our partners' economy.
I have always had a steadfast conviction that migration needs to be managed.
It needs endurance and patient work with key partners.
And it needs unity within our Union.
This is the spirit of the New Pact on Migration and Asylum.
When we took office, there seemed to be no possible compromise in sight.
But with the Pact, we are striking a new balance.
Between protecting borders and protecting people.
Between sovereignty and solidarity.
Between security and humanity.
And we have translated the spirit of the Pact into practical solutions.
We were fast and united in responding to the hybrid attack that Belarus launched against us.
We worked closely with our Western Balkan partners and reduced irregular flows.
We have signed a partnership with Tunisia that brings mutual benefits beyond migration – from energy and education, to skills and security.
And we now want to work on similar agreements with other countries.
We stepped up border protection.
European Agencies deepened their cooperation with Member States.
Allow me to thank in particular Bulgaria and Romania for leading the way – showcasing best practices on both asylum and returns.
So let us finally bring them in – without any further delay.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our work on migration is based on the conviction that unity is within our reach.
An agreement on the pact has never been so close.
Let us show that Europe can manage migration effectively and with compassion.
Let's get this done!
We know that migration requires constant work.
And nowhere is that more vital than in the fight against human smugglers.
They attract desperate people with their lies.
And put them on deadly routes across the desert, or on boats that are unfit for the sea.
The way these smugglers operate is continuously evolving.
But our legislation is over twenty years old and needs an urgent update.
So we need new legislation and a new governance structure.
We need stronger law enforcement, prosecution and a more prominent role for our agencies – Europol, Eurojust and Frontex.
And we need to work with our partners to tackle this global plague of human trafficking.
This is why the Commission will organise an International Conference on fighting people smuggling.
It is time to put an end to this callous and criminal business!
On the day when Russian tanks crossed the border into Ukraine, a young Ukrainian mother set off for Prague to bring her child to safety.
When the Czech border official stamped her passport, she started crying.
Her son didn't understand. And he asked his mother why she was crying.
“But this is not Ukraine,” he argued.
So she explained: “This is Europe.”
On that day, that Ukrainian mother, felt that Europe was her home.
Because “home is where we trust each other”.
And the people of Ukraine could trust their fellow Europeans.
Her name was Victoria Amelina.
She was one of the great young writers of her generation and a tireless activist for justice.
Once her son was safe, Victoria returned to Ukraine to document Russia's war crimes.
One year later she was killed by a Russian ballistic missile, while having dinner with colleagues.
The victim of a Russian war crime, one of countless attacks against innocent civilians.
Amelina was with three friends that day – including Héctor Abad Faciolince, a fellow writer from Colombia.
He is part of a campaign called “Aguanta, Ucrania” – “Resist, Ukraine”, created to tell Latin Americans of Russia's war of aggression and attacks on civilians.
But Héctor could never imagine becoming the target himself.
Afterwards, he said he didn't know why he lived and she died.
But now he is telling the world about Victoria. To save her memory and to end this war.
And I am honoured that Héctor is here with us today.
Aguanta, Ucrania. Slava Ukraini!
We will be at Ukraine's side every step of the way.
For as long as it takes.
Since the start of the war, four million Ukrainians have found refuge in our Union.
And I want to say to them that they are as welcome now as they were in those fateful first weeks.
We have ensured that they have access to housing, healthcare, the job market and much more.
this was Europe answering the call of history.
And so I am proud to announce that the Commission will propose to extend our temporary protection to Ukrainians in the EU.
Our support to Ukraine will endure.
We have provided 12 billion euros this year alone to help pay wages and pensions.
To help keep hospitals, schools and other services running.
And through our ASAP proposal we are ramping up ammunition production to help match Ukraine's immediate needs.
But we are also looking further ahead.
This is why we have proposed an additional 50 billion euros over four years for investment and reforms.
This will help build Ukraine's future to rebuild a modern and prosperous country.
And that future is clear to see.
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.
And I know just how important the EU perspective is for so many people in Georgia.
I started by speaking of Europe responding to the call of history.
And history is now calling us to work on completing our Union.
In a world where some are trying to pick off countries one by one, we cannot afford to leave our fellow Europeans behind.
In a world where size and weight matters, it is clearly in Europe's strategic and security interests to complete our Union.
But beyond the politics and geopolitics of it, we need to picture what is at stake.
We need to set out a vision for a successful enlargement.
A Union complete with over 500 million people living in a free, democratic and prosperous Union.
A Union complete with young people who can live, study and work in freedom.
Because the rule of law and fundamental rights will always be the foundation of our Union – in current and in future Member States.
We now work closely with Member States to identify progress and concerns – and make recommendations for the year ahead.
This has ensured accountability in front of this House and national parliaments.
It has allowed for dialogue between Member States.
And it is delivering results.
I believe that it can do the same for future Member States.
This is why I am very happy to announce that we will open the Rule of Law Reports to those accession countries who get up to speed even faster.
This will place them on an equal footing with Member States.
And support them in their reform efforts.
And it will help ensure that our future is a Union of freedom, rights and values for all.
This is in our shared interest.
Think about the great enlargement of 20 years ago.
We called it the European Day of Welcomes.
And it was a triumph of determination and hope over the burdens of the past.
And in the 20 years since we have seen an economic success story which has improved the lives of millions.
I want us to look forward to the next European Day of Welcomes and the next economic success stories.
We know this is not an easy road.
Accession is merit-based – and the Commission will always defend this principle.
It takes hard work and leadership.
But there is already a lot of progress.
And we have seen the determination of other candidate countries to reform.
it is now time for us to match that determination.
And that means thinking about how we get ready for a completed Union.
We need to move past old, binary debates about enlargement.
This is not a question of deepening integration or widening the Union.
We can and we must do both.
To give us the geopolitical weight and the capacity to act.
This is what our Union has always done.
Each wave of enlargement came with a political deepening.
We went from coal and steel towards full economic integration.
And after the fall of the Iron Curtain, we turned an economic project into a True Union of people and states.
I believe that the next enlargement must also be a catalyst for progress.
We have started to build a Health Union at 27.
And I believe we can finish it at 30+.
We have started to build European Defence Union at 27.
And I believe we can finish it at 30+.
And I believe that Team Europe also works at 30+.
I know this House believes the same.
And the European Parliament has always been one of the main drivers of European integration.
It has been so throughout the decades.
And it is once again today.
And, yes, that means including through a European Convention and Treaty change if and where it is needed!
But we cannot – and we should not – wait for Treaty change to move ahead with enlargement.
A Union fit for enlargement can be achieved faster.
And in particular about our capacity to act.
The good news is that with every enlargement those who said it would make us less efficient were proven wrong.
Take the last few years.
We agreed on NextGenerationEU at 27.
We agreed to buy vaccines at 27.
We agreed on sanctions in record time – also at 27.
So it can be done.
We need to discuss the future of our budget – in terms of what it finances, how it finances it, and how it is financed.
And we need to understand how to ensure credible security commitments in a world where deterrence matters more than ever.
These are questions we must address today if we want to be ready for tomorrow.
And the Commission will play its part.
This is why we will put forward our ideas to the Leaders' discussion under the Belgian Presidency.
We will be driven by the belief that completing our Union is the best investment in peace, security and prosperity for our Continent.
So it is time for Europe to once again think big and write our own destiny!
Victoria Amelina believed that it is our collective duty to write a new story for Europe.
This is where Europe stands today.
At a time and place where history is written.
The future of our continent depends on the choices we make today.
On the steps we take to complete our Union.
The people of Europe want a Union that stands up for them in a time of great power competition.
But also one that protects and stands close to them, as a partner and ally in their daily battles.
And we will listen to their voice.
If it matters to Europeans, it matters to Europe.
Think again about the vision and imagination of the young generation I started my speech with.
It is the moment to show them that we can build a continent where you can be who you are, love who you want, and aim as high as you want.
A continent reconciled with nature and leading the way on new technologies.
A continent that is united in freedom and peace.
Once again – this is Europe's moment to answer the call of history.
Long live Europe.