Five things in the first speech of the head of the European Union


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image CaptionUrsula von der Leyen replaced Jean-Claude Juncker in EU’s top job in December

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has given her first State of the Union address, outlining her vision for the future of the European Union (EU).

The Commission drafts the laws of the European Union, enforces EU regulations and has the power to impose fines on member states if necessary.

Here are five key areas Mrs. Von der Leyen touched on in her comprehensive speech.

1) Climate change

The European Union chief spoke at length about the environment, and announced the block’s ambitious plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

He said the goal was to reduce emissions by at least 55% from 1990 levels by 2030 – up from the earlier target of 40%.

“When it comes to the future of our fragile planet, there is no more immediate need for acceleration,” said Mrs von der Leye.

“When most of the world’s activities go bad during lockdown and shutdown, the planet is warming dangerously,” he said. “The goal of 2030 is ambitious, attainable and profitable.”

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EU leaders will meet next month to agree on the target, but resistance is expected from some Eastern European countries that rely largely on coal for their energy. However most states withdraw such targets.

Mrs von der Leyen also said that 30% of the € 750bn (£ 677bn; $ 859bn) post-coronovirus recovery package accepted by EU leaders last month will be devoted to climate-friendly projects.

“I will insist that recovery plans do not bring us out of the crisis but help us advance Europe in the world of tomorrow,” she said.

2) Coronavirus

Unexpectedly, the European Union’s response to the coronovirus epidemic featured prominently in the address.

“A virus thousands of times smaller than a grain of sand exposes how fragile life can be,” Mrs von der Leyen said. “The epidemic and the uncertainty that goes with it is not over and recovery is still in its early stage.”

But Mrs von der Leyen praised the European Union’s multi-million euro recovery package, which was accepted as a “chance to change by design, and not disaster” after four nights of negotiations.

“We replaced fear and division among member states with confidence in our union,” she said. “We showed what is possible when we trust each other.”

Media captionEuropean Council President Charles Mitchell said the deal was a “defining moment”

The former German defense minister also announced that a global health summit would take place in Italy next year, and that the European Union would create a new agency for biomedical research and development.

3) Brexit

While Britain’s departure from the European Union received only a brief mention in the speech, it drew loud applause from European parliamentarians in the audience.

“[Trade] The negotiations have not proceeded as we wished… and this gives us very little time, ”said Mrs von der Leyen.

“[The withdrawal agreement] Can not apply unilaterally changed, rejected or rejected. It is a matter of law, trust and good faith, ”she said.

Media captionLayne: UK and EU “jointly agree” on withdrawal agreement
EU chiefs were referring to a controversial bill published by the UK government that seeks to end parts of the Brexit deal with the EU.

The UK government has said that the bill is an “important safety net” that is necessary in the event that a trade agreement is not reached. But the government has also said that it breaks international law, and the European Union wants the law to be abolished.

Mrs von der Leyen said, “It took three years to compromise the agreement and we worked on it continuously. Line by line, word by word.”

4) Technology

The chairman of the commission called for greater investment in technology so that the European Union can build synergies with the US and China.

“We want to move forward for the digital age, in a European way, based on our values, our strengths, our global ambitions.”

Mrs von der Leyen said that 20% of the € 750 billion coronavirus recovery package would be invested in digital projects with € 8bn being spent on the next generation of supercomputers.

She called for a “twin green and digital transition” at a time when “the global competitive landscape is fundamentally changing”.

5) Migration

Five years before the 2015 migrant crisis, Mrs von der Leyen said it led to “many deep divisions” and “some taint” within the EU [are] Still fine today ”.

“If we are all ready to compromise then we can find a solution to it,” she told the audience. “Migration is a European challenge and the whole of Europe must be part of it.”

She said a fire destroyed a migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos, rendering thousands of migrants and refugees homeless and bringing the issue to the fore again.
Media captionThe BBC’s Gene McKenzie spent time in the camp just six months ago talking to people and showcasing his experiences there.

“The images of the Maurea camp are a painful reminder of the need to get together in Europe,” Mrs von der Leyen said.

“Next week, the commission will put forward its new agreement on migration,” he said. “We will adopt a humane and humanistic approach. Saving lives at sea is not optional.”

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