European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is outlining the EU’s main priorities and initiatives for the year to come on Wednesday morning as she delivers the annual State of the Union speech before MEPs.
It is the final State of the Union speech of this European Parliament legislature, with MEP elections scheduled to take place across member states in 2024.
It could also be von der Leyen’s final speech as Commission president: the German politician has not yet said whether she intends to seek a second term in the EU Commission hot seat.
These are the highlights of her speech:
‘Our support to Ukraine will endure,’ says EU chief
European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday the bloc would extend special protections granted to Ukrainian citizens who fled Russia’s war, restating the bloc’s long-term dedication to support Kyiv.
“Our support to Ukraine will endure,” the European Commission president said in her annual policy speech to the European Parliament.
Lawmakers gave a standing ovation as von der Leyen recounted the fate of Victoria Amelina, a Ukrainian writer and activist who perished in Russia’s war against Ukraine after delivering her son to safety in Prague, an EU capital.
EU to investigate ‘flood’ of Chinese electric cars
The European Commission launched an investigation on Wednesday into whether to impose punitive tariffs to protect European Union producers against cheaper Chinese electric vehicle (EV) imports it says are benefiting from state subsidies.
“Global markets are now flooded with cheaper electric cars. And their price is kept artificially low by huge state subsidies,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in her annual address to the bloc’s parliament, seen by many in Brussels as a pitch for her re-appointment for a second term.
The Commission will have up to 13 months to assess whether to impose tariffs above the standard 10% EU rate for cars in the its highest profile case against China since an EU probe into Chinese solar panels narrowly avoided a trade war a decade ago.
The anti-subsidy investigation covers battery-powered cars from China, so also includes non-Chinese brands made there, such as Tesla, Renault and BMW. It is also unusual in that it is brought by the European Commission itself, rather than in response to an industry complaint.
EU to appoint envoy to ease red tape for small, medium businesses
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday she would appoint an envoy to help small and medium-sized enterprises handle red tape to make it easier to do business.
“For every new piece of legislation we conduct a competitiveness check by an independent board,” she said in her annual State of the European Union address.
“And next month, we will make the first legislative proposals towards reducing reporting obligations at the European level by 25%.”
Companies across the bloc have repeatedly said the EU risks losing out on innovation owing to its complex legislation, particularly for the energy transition.
EU’s von der Leyen pledges more support for wind industry
The European Union will put forward a package of measures to support Europe’s wind industry as renewable energy companies struggle with challenges including inflation, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen added.
“We will fast-track permitting even more. We will improve the auction systems across the EU. We will focus on skills, access to finance and stable supply chains,” von der Leyen said in a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday.
The 27-country EU has among the world’s most ambitious targets to expand renewable energy, and is finalising a legally-binding goal to get 42.5% of EU energy from renewable sources by 2030.
Europe’s offshore wind industry has warned governments it is not big enough to deliver green power goals, and requires a jump in policy support to get on track – particularly if new wind farms are to be manufactured in Europe.
Final investment decisions in European offshore wind farms hit a 10-year low in 2022, as developers faced record-high inflation, soaring interest rates, increased seabed leasing fees and volatile energy markets.
Investment has recovered since, but in future years, European spending required for wind generation is likely to be below target, analysts say. That could raise the risk of increased reliance on imported parts from China and elsewhere.
“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,” von der Leyen said.
Von der Leyen defends track record ahead of EU elections
Ursula von der Leyen also defended her track record as European Commission chief, saying she had promoted – and would continue to stand for – a fair transition to green energy, a strong geopolitical union and fair competition with the world.
Von der Leyen, who is widely expected to seek a second term at the head of the EU executive next year, said she and her team had delivered over 90% of the proposals presented when she became Commission chief in 2019.
“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,” von der Leyen told EU lawmakers in her last state of the union speech before European Parliament elections next June.
“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.”
Ukraine made “great strides” but more hard work before EU accession
Ukraine has made “great strides” to join the European Union since being granted candidate status in 2022, but full accession is a merit-based process and hard work lies ahead, the head of the bloc’s executive said in her annual speech on Wednesday.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addressed the European Parliament as the 27-nation bloc starts debating whether to grant Kyiv in December the next milestone on its way towards Western integration – a formal start of membership negotiations. The start of such talks would be a geo-political bargain as Ukraine fights against a Russian invasion.
“We know this is not an easy road,” von der Leyen said. “Accession is merit-based… It takes hard work and leadership. But there is already a lot of progress. We have seen the great strides Ukraine has already made since.”
EU’s von der Leyen calls for global AI panel to assess risks, benefits
Von der Leyen on Wednesday called for a global panel to assess the risks and benefits of artificial intelligence, underscoring worldwide concerns about the increasing use and misuse of this technology.
The European Union should join forces with its partners to ensure a global approach to understanding the impact of AI in society, similar to the global panel IPCC which informs policy makers about the climate, von der Leyen said.
“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,” she told the European Parliament in her state of the union address.
EU should have common funding for industrial policy
The European Union needs an industrial policy that would keep it at the forefront of critical and emerging technologies and needs common EU funding for that, the head of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
“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,” she told the European Parliament.
As part of its proposal to modify the EU’s long-term budget, the Commission proposed in June to create the Strategic Technologies for Europe Platform (STEP), which would help stimulate private investment in critical technologies.
The STEP fund, a much less ambitious version of the originally intended EU Sovereignty Fund the Commission proposed last year, would leverage some existing budget funds and an extra 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion) to generate 160 billion euros of investment.
“With STEP we can boost, leverage and steer EU funds to invest in everything from microelectronics to quantum computing and AI. From biotech to clean tech. Our companies need this support now – so I urge for a quick agreement on our budget proposal,” von der Leyen told parliament.
EU chief wants to conclude trade deals with Australia, Mexico, Mercosur this year
The European Union should seek to complete free trade agreements with Australia, Mexico and South American bloc Mercosur by the end of the year, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday.
Von der Leyen told the European Parliament in her annual State of the Union address that the EU should then look at potential deals with India and Indonesia.
The Commission chief said the European Union was also stepping up its partnerships with countries to increase EU access to critical minerals and said the bloc could convene a first meeting of a “critical raw materials club” with such partners later this year.
EU chief calls for more engagement with Africa
The European Union must engage more with African countries, the bloc’s chief executive said on Wednesday, accusing Russia of stirring chaos in the Sahel and saying military coups destabilise the region making it prone to risk of terrorism.
“This is of direct concern for Europe – for our security and prosperity,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in her annual policy speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday.
“We need to show the same unity of purpose towards Africa as we have shown for Ukraine. We need to focus on cooperation with legitimate governments and regional organisations,” she said.
Von der Leyen, widely expected to seek a second term at the helm of the EU executive after a continent-wide election next year, spoke as the bloc’s promised major infrastructure spending in the global south moves at a snail’s pace.