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'This is the moment for the EU to lead the way'

September 16, 2020

In her first speech on the state of the EU, Ursula von der Leyen said the bloc should significantly increase its emissions-cutting targets. She also unveiled a plan to reboot Europe's economy amid the coronavirus crisis.

Ursula von der Leyen gives her speech on the State of the EU
Image: Reuters/Y. Herman

Ursula von der Leyen talks to DW

The EU's most powerful senior official unveiled plans to reboot the bloc's battered economy with what is being dubbed a "green new deal."

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commissionsaid the EU should significantly toughen its emissions-cutting target to at least 55by 2030. 

"I recognize that this increase from 40 to 55 is too much for some, and not enough for others," she said in a speech to EU lawmakers in Brussels. "But our impact assessment clearly shows that our economy and industry can manage this."

She suggested that 30% of the bloc's €750 billion coronavirus recovery package should be raised through green bonds, which are financial instruments aimed at supporting climate-friendly projects.

The EU agreed the stimulus plan in July that will allow the European Commission to raise billions of euros on the global financial markets.

MEPs and EU governments would still need to agree to the plan. 

Some countries argue such green targets are harder to meet because they rely on high-polluting energy sources such as coal. 

Campaigners say 55is not enough to hit the EU's longer-term goal of climate neutrality by 2050. 

German politicians weigh in

"The Commission has very good arguments for a new goal of at least 55%," German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said in response to von der Leyen's speech.

Schulze said her EU counterparts would discuss adopting the measure at the end of September: "I hope we at these talks will come closer to an agreement."

Bavarian lawmaker Georg Nusslein from the Christian Social Union, a sister party of Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, said the new climate strategy comes with "high risks" for German industry.

The EU's climate goals should be met through "fair burden-sharing," Nusslein was quoted by the DPA news agency as saying.

Germany is already “walking the fine line economically and socially responsible," he added.

Coronavirus a chance for 'EU to lead the way'

Speaking at the European Parliament in Brussels, the former German defense minister said that the coronavirus crisis presented the bloc with "a moment for the EU to lead the way."

She urged EU governments to work on common health care policies, promising a biomedical research agency and a global summit.

Von der Leyen said the coronavirus pandemic had underlined the need for closer cooperation. "The people of Europe are still suffering," she said.

The speech was set to be held at the body's Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament but was moved to the Belgian capital after the French government designated the eastern city as a coronavirus "red zone."

Von der Leyen warns UK

Von der Leyen made only a passing reference to Brexit because talks are being led by the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier. 

She warned Downing Street that it would fail to seal a trade deal with the EU if it tried to rewrite last year’s withdrawal agreement. 

"With every day that passes, the chances of a timely agreement do start to fade," von der Leyen said. 

She stressed that the Brexit divorce treaty, agreed and ratified by both the UK and EU, "cannot be unilaterally changed, disregarded or disapplied." 

"This is a matter of law and trust and good faith,," the EU chief said, recalling that British former-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said breaking treaties was "bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade. The comments drew an enthusiastic response from the Republic of Ireland's Foreign and Defense Minister Simon Coveney.

EU chief urges bloc to do more on human rights

The Commission president attacked Poland's government overs its "LGBT-free zones," which she branded as "humanity free zones."

"Breaches of the rule of law cannot be tolerated," von der Leyen said.

On Monday, MEPs called for Poland's conservative government to lose EU funding over its attack on LGBT+ people and rule of law record.

Von der Leyen told EU governments to work together on tackling the migration crisis, after a fire at a refugee camp in Greece left several people homeless.

"I expect all member states to step up, too," she told the European Parliament. "Migration is a European challenge and all of Europe must do its part."

Read more: Lesbos and refugees: Europe descends into self-made chaos

Von der Leyen, 61, is a trained medical doctor and comes from German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union. 

She took up her role as the head of the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, last year. 

jf/sms (AFP, Reuters)