European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, gave the annual State of the Union speech on Wednesday 15 September 2021. This annual address provides an opportunity to set out the achievements of the Commission and its plan of action for the year ahead.  

As we all know, this has been a year like no other and so announcements on topics such as pandemic recovery, action on the climate crisis and promoting digitalisation were eagerly anticipated. This was especially so as one of the opening remarks included the phrasing “…if I look at the state of the Union today, I see a strong soul in everything we do”. This positivity of outlook was a theme of the speech.  

Key action points for 2021/22:  

To elaborate, key announcements made included:  

  • Vaccinations: A continuation of efforts to vaccinate Europe and support the distribution of vaccinations globally. Von der Leyen commented that over 70% of adults in the EU are now fully vaccinated and that Europe stands alone in having shared half of the vaccine production with the globe. A health preparedness and resilience mission for EU was also proposed.  
  • Digitalisation: Investment in 5G, fibre and skills were announced. A Europeans Chips Act was discussed with its aim being to ensure Europe remains competitive in the global market, doing so in a coordinated manner. All of this is done in the name of protectiingon the tech sovereignty of the Union.  
  • Economy: building back from the pandemic was discussed with Von der Leyen voicing the need to reboot discussions on the Economic Governance Review to build consensus in approach.  
  • Social: Von der Leyen heralded the creation of the European Pillar of Social Rights to ensure jobs, working conditions, healthcare and life quality. This is in tandem with the discussion of a new European Care Strategy.  
  • Supporting the younger generation: ALMA, a programme to help young people find temporary work experience in neighbouring member states was announced. Added to this, 2022 was suggested the be aptly named the “Year of European Youth” to empower and celebrate this demographic of citizens.  
  • Climate crisis: Linking to the younger generation once more, Von der Leyen commented on the pressure placed on the Union in tackling climate change. This is especially so after the extreme weather disasters that have devastated some member states and beyond over the summer months. Focus was put on the green transition and a new Social Climate Fund to assist in alleviating energy poverty, together with the upcoming COP26 conference and a push for more climate finance.  
  • Afghanistan: The speech confirmed an Afghan Support Package to be announced and co-operation with the Secretary General on a new EU-NATO Joint Declaration. In addition, Von der Leyen discussed the importance of situational awareness, describing this as joined up knowledge sharing and decision making, compounded in a Joint Situational Awareness Centre. Cyber defence tools were emphasised as having increasing importance as threats evolve. 

For further detail on the State of the Union speech you can view the written version, in your chosen language, here

October 2021