Opening remarks by President von der Leyen at the joint press conference with President Michel following the Special meeting of the European Council of 25 May 2021

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC) i, gepubliceerd op dinsdag 25 mei 2021.

Thank you very much.

Indeed, our primary focus at this European Council at this point in time continues to be the fight against the pandemic - both inside the European Union and of course also outside the European Union. In the European Union, it is undeniable that we have made great progress since the beginning of May. We see cases and hospitalisations on a downward trend. That is good. By the end of the week, over 300 million doses of vaccines will have been delivered to Member States. And in June, we expect more than 400 million doses.

So we are on track to reach our goal to have enough doses being delivered to vaccinate 70% of the adult population in the European Union by the end of July. If we continue like this, we have confidence that we will be able to safely reopen our societies. So we must now focus on consolidating this progress.

One important element that we have been discussing is the vaccination of minors. We hope for EMA i to approve the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine for 12 to 15 year old children, which will then make the vaccination possible. Another topic that we have been discussing is of course the possibility of escape variants. Vaccines are showing effectiveness against the known variants present in Europe - that is a good result. But of course we know that escape variants will remain a public health risk. And we are therefore working hard on setting up an efficient monitoring of escape variants for the European Union. The ECDC is monitoring closely the circulation of variants within the EU i and it is now important that it expands its monitoring to a global scale. Because this will help us stay presumably one step ahead of the virus and adapt our strategies quickly in case that this is necessary.

This is all the more important as we progress with reopening our societies and in particular as we progress in facilitating freedom of movement across the European Union. And indeed, there is then the EU Certificate that plays a role. We are very happy that the political agreement last week has taken place. It marks a major milestone in this respect. Citizens will now be able to use a mutually recognised certificate, wherever they travel in the European Union. The IT infrastructure is ready at EU level as of 1 June.

And as of mid-June, when the Regulation enters into force, Member States will be able to connect live to the system. Now, Member States have the key and the urgent task to make sure that their national health systems are fed with the information of citizens' health status, so that the Certificate can be issued. That sounds like a lot of work and indeed, it is still a lot of work. But I am optimistic that we are getting there. I think the Certificate is a unique opportunity to showcase how the European Union contributes concretely to peoples' daily lives. So we must all contribute to make it happen.

On the global response: Indeed, we have been discussing on the one hand the vaccine sharing mechanism. And as you know, beginning of last week, Member States have started to pledge, to donate vaccines, which is all the more timely as we know that the Serum Institute of India has halted all its exports to COVAX until the end of the year. So donations are desperately needed.

And there is a second good news: that our European industrial partners - that is BioNTech-Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson - have committed to deliver 1.3 billion doses of vaccines in 2021 at non-profit for low-income countries and at low cost to middle-income countries. And finally, indeed we are working on an initiative to invest EUR 1 billion from Team Europe i to develop vaccine manufacturing in Africa, the capacity itself in Africa. It is a specific initiative with our African partners. An initiative not only for the production - so to build up the manufacturing capacities - but also for skills development, for the management of the supply chain or for example the necessary regulatory framework through the African Medicines Agency. This initiative also aims at bringing mRNA technologies to Africa. This is something, which has not happened so far, but this is our aim: to get there.

The second topic we have been discussing indeed is climate. Over the past year, we have made great progress in charting our course to climate neutrality in 2050. And, as you know, we fixed the intermediary target of at least -55% of greenhouse gas emissions until 2030. Now, we have shown to the European Council that we are building a model for a clean economy that is also a prosperous economy. And both is doable: a clean economy and a prosperous economy. That is our goal.

Today, we have continued the discussions on the necessary means to achieve these goals. The goals are clear, they are fixed in the Climate Law, so nobody is disputing them anymore. Now, we have to discuss the ‘how': How are we getting there? And this discussion came very timely, because indeed, it is a few weeks before the Commission will present its package of proposals. So it is both timely and urgent that we had this discussion. One key element of the proposals of the ‘Fit for 55' Package is that we will provide additional EU-level measures alongside those of the Member States to help them to deliver on the targets.

So this whole package will consist of 12 different proposals. It will combine on the one hand the carbon pricing - what we know as ‘Emission Trading System', the ETS that is in place. It has proven to be effective, it works. And on the other side, it has the targets and the regulatory standards - for example represented in the Effort Sharing Regulation. Important is that all these different elements - CO2 pricing, the regulatory framework, the targets - are closely interlinked. They are interlinked and they have all the same goal: that on the one hand, we reduce emissions, on the other hand, we drive green innovation and we foster the necessary investments to achieve these goals. What we want is sustainable, clean growth and jobs. In this overall framework, we have discussed the two main components: it is the ETS indeed and it is the complementary Effort Sharing Regulation.

I have listened very carefully to Member States views about how we do this effectively and fairly. Some of these measures may have social impacts. And therefore, it is important, from the very beginning, that we think of models, that we are able to support Member States to ensure a proper social compensation. The one goes with the other. In sum: We have our goals fixed now and agreed - as I said, the Climate Law. We are now with this regulatory framework putting in place all the necessary measures that we need to reach these goals. And we have mobilised the necessary resources - the funding - to make it work through the MFF and NextGenerationEU. I think this will boost public and private investments into the green transition, both investments for people and for technology.