Speech by President von der Leyen at the European Parliament Plenary on the presentation of the programme of activities of the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC) i, gepubliceerd op woensdag 20 januari 2021.

Merci, Messieurs les Présidents,

Cher Premier ministre, cher António,

Mesdames et Messieurs les Députés,

J'ai eu le privilège de commencer cette nouvelle année par une visite à Lisbonne. Cette ville de renouvellement et de nouveaux départs était le lieu idéal pour discuter de nos priorités politiques avec le gouvernement et le parlement portugais. Une fois encore, cher António, merci pour votre hospitalité!

Mesdames et Messieurs les Députés,

C'est dans les périodes de grands bouleversements que notre tissu social est le plus mis à l'épreuve. Nous le constatons en Europe et dans le reste du monde. Les évolutions démographiques, sociétales et technologiques sont allées plus vite que notre capacité à répondre aux attentes des gens. Pour trop de gens, c'est une source de frustration et de divisions. Car leurs attentes n'ont pas changé!

Their expectations have not changed. They want jobs for a decent living. They want fairness, equality and social protection in times of need. They want to know that if they work hard and do their fair share, they will not lose out. These are the unwritten rules and norms that make up our social market economy. But while expectations have not changed, society and the economy have. And our current rules are based on old realities. They no longer reflect the speed and scale of the transformations we are embarking on.

So as we overcome the pandemic, as we prepare necessary reforms and as we speed up the twin green and digital transitions, I believe it is time to also adapt the social rulebook. A rulebook, which ensures solidarity between generations. A rulebook that rewards entrepreneurs who take care of their employees. Which focuses on jobs and opens up opportunities. Which puts skills, innovation and social protection on an equal footing. The good news is that with NextGenerationEU we have all chosen to recover from this crisis together - rather than scrap for ourselves and widen social disparities.

With our SURE programme, we have shown our commitment to protect jobs and workers. This has helped provide EUR 90 billion to support employers and employees in 18 countries. But there is much more to do. This is why we will update our Industrial Strategy to make sure we can create quality jobs in the post-pandemic world. Because the green, digital and fair recovery must be a jobs recovery.

And in the next few months we will address some of the underlying societal trends. In March, we will bring forward our Action Plan on the European Pillar of Social Rights. And I am looking forward to the Social Summit in Porto in May where we can send a united message along with social partners, civil society and EU institutions. I want to thank António for his leadership and support on this.

Honourable Members,

As we all know, any recovery depends on overcoming the pandemic. I will not repeat what you already heard yesterday in your debate on the Vaccines Strategy. But I want to say this: Staying united on vaccines, as 27 Member States, was the right choice. If anyone has any doubts, I simply urge you to look at the list of the top 50 countries in the world who have vaccinated the highest percentage of their population. All 27 Member States are on that list. Without a common EU approach, how many Member States would have been on that list? And how many Member States would not have been able to negotiate a single contract? What would it have meant for our Union if one Member State had vaccinated most of its citizens before others had even started? But by working together, the Commission was able to secure the broadest portfolio of vaccines in the world. As you know, this gives us access to 2.3 billion doses. And this is more than enough for Europe and our neighbourhood.

A word on our neighbourhood. We need to support them to start vaccinating their frontline workers - from the Western Balkans to the Eastern Partnership; to our African partners in the South. This is why the Commission is proposing an EU Vaccine Sharing Mechanism. This will channel vaccines either directly - or through the COVAX Facility in which the EU is the largest contributor. In total, Team Europe has already provided almost EUR 40 billion of support to our partners since last April. And we need to show the same leadership when it comes to vaccines.

Some will ask how we can talk about sharing vaccines with others when we are not all vaccinated ourselves. To them I say: This is not only a matter of solidarity but also a matter of self-interest. We will only come out of this pandemic together. This is true for our health, for our economies and supply chains, and also for our geopolitical credibility and influence. Those who show support to their partners - with doses and deeds - will not be forgotten. But those who do not, will be remembered - but for very different reasons. And I am determined that Europe must be on the right side of history and humanity. And I know this House feels the same way too.

Honourable Members,

Es ist ein Wettlauf gegen die Zeit! Wir sind mit beispielloser Geschwindigkeit vorangekommen. Was wir in 10 Monaten geschafft haben bei der Impfstoffentwicklung, braucht in der Regel 10 Jahre. Selbstverständlich haben alle Staaten weltweit auf der Strecke mit Schwierigkeiten zu kämpfen. Sei es bei der Produktion, dem Vertrieb oder der Logistik. Aber das werden wir überwinden. Und wir werden das rasch tun. Aber auch das gelingt nur, wenn wir gemeinsam handeln.

Ich werde morgen auf der Videokonferenz mit den Staats- und Regierungschefs Kernpunkte ansprechen. Wir müssen schneller werden beim Impfen. Das Tempo in Europa ist noch zu unterschiedlich. Wir müssen die Unternehmen dabei unterstützen, die Produktionskapazität zu erhöhen. Und wir müssen die Ausbreitung der neuen Varianten des Virus präzise verfolgen.

The spread of these variants is a cause for severe concern. This is, indeed, a race against time. The EU urgently needs to speed up genome sequencing. Currently only one Member State is testing 1% of positive tests - and many have not even started. This makes it very difficult to identify the progress of the variants or to detect new ones. We should aim for every Member State to scale up sequencing to 5%, to 10% of positive tests. I know, not every country has the capacity to do that. But our agency - the ECDC - does. And every Member State has access to that capacity - but only two have used it so far.

The last point is about preserving our Single Market. The message is clear. The blanket closure of borders in this situation makes no sense. It harms the functioning of our Single Market. And it is not as effective as targeted measures. This is why we need a common approach to test, trace, travel and borders. And the Commission has put everything on the table to ensure that we can do that.

Honourable Members,

All of this will take continued efforts from us all. And I am delighted that we will have the Portuguese Presidency alongside us to make it happen. Together we will overcome the pandemic. So as the Portuguese Presidency so aptly says in its motto: It is ‘time to deliver'.