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State of the EU: Fight against COVID-19, recovery, climate and external policy

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In the annual State of the European Union debate, MEPs quizzed Commission President von der Leyen about the EU’s most immediate challenges, Plenary session  AFCO.

Commission President Ursula von der Leyen started her second State of the European Union address highlighting that, in the biggest global health crisis for a century, the deepest global economic crisis for decades and the gravest planetary crisis of all time, “we chose to go it together. As one Europe. And we can be proud of it”. She stressed that Europe is among the world leaders in vaccination rates, while sharing half of its vaccine production with the rest of the world. Now the priority is to speed up global vaccination, continue efforts in Europe and prepare well for future pandemics.

Looking ahead, she noted that “digital is the make-or-break issue” and announced a new European Chips Act, bringing together Europe’s world-class research, design and testing capacities and coordinating EU and national investments on semi-conductors. On climate change, von der Leyen made clear that “since it is man-made, we can do something about it”. She highlighted that, with the Green Deal, the EU was the first major economy to present comprehensive legislation in this area and promised to support developing countries by doubling funding for biodiversity and pledging an additional €4 billion for climate finance until 2027 to support their green transition.

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Speaking about foreign and security policy, she called for a European Cyber Defence Policy and a new European Cyber Resilience Act and announced a summit on European defence to be held under the French Presidency.

Manfred WEBER (EPP,DE) pointed to the social and economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis and said that Europe urgently needs to create new jobs, also in the health sector where the EU is leading with COVID-19 vaccines. He pleaded for an EU-US trade emergency programme for the transport and mobility and digital sectors and a plan to cut bureaucracy. European defence should be strengthened with a rapid reaction force, and Europol turned into a European FBI, he concluded.

Iratxe GARCÍA (S&D, ES) assessed the EU’s fight against the pandemic and its consequences positively: “70% of the population is vaccinated, freedom of movement is again a reality and NextGenerationEU funds are already being distributed”. The transition towards a green economy is also on track, she added, but “we have not done enough to ensure the wellbeing of citizens”, noting that the crisis has exacerbated inequalities and hit the most vulnerable harder.

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Dacian CIOLOŞ (Renew, RO) complained that too often, the Commission has been engaging in diplomacy with the Council instead of engaging in policy-making with the Parliament. Emphasising that European values are the foundations of our Union, he urged the Commission to start using the conditionality mechanism set up to protect the EU budget from breaches to the rule of law-in force for almost a year but never applied-, to stop financing illiberal movements in many parts of Europe where judicial independence is being eroded, journalists murdered and minorities discriminated against.

Philippe LAMBERTS (Greens/EFA, BE) demanded more climate ambition: “faster, higher, stronger: it is high time to apply the Olympic goals to our efforts to save the planet”. He also asked for changes in the fiscal and social systems to ensure a dignified life for all. On external policy, Lamberts noted that only by sharing sovereignty could the EU become a “heavyweight” on the world scene, and made clear that "’Fortress Europe’ will never be a respected geopolitical player”. Finally, he regretted that EU countries’ main concern over Afghanistan is to avoid any Afghan putting their feet on European territory.

EU citizens do not need “flowery speeches”, they just “want to be left alone”, said Jörg MEUTHEN (ID, DE). He criticised the Commission’s plans of “massive expenses” - for the Green Deal, for the recovery fund, for “Fit for 55”, which citizens would have to pay for in the end. He warned of growing bureaucracy and deplored the transition towards green energy, pleading for more nuclear energy.

Raffaele FITTO (ECR, IT) warned that “the NextGenerationEU resources alone are not enough” and demanded a reform of the Stability Pact. He also called for a change in state aid rules and a more autonomous trade policy. “The environmental transition cannot be tackled without taking into account what is happening in the world and especially the impact on our production system”, he added. On rule of law and Poland, Fitto denounced “a political imposition by a majority that does not respect the competences of individual states”.

According to Martin SCHIRDEWAN (The Left, DE), Ms von der Leyen has praised herself but not delivered any answers to today’s problems. He demanded that patent protection for vaccines be removed and deplored that the 10 richest billionaires in Europe have further increased their fortunes during the pandemic while one in five children in the EU is growing up in or at risk of poverty.

Speakers

Ursula VON DER LEYEN, President of the European Commission

Manfred WEBER (EPP, DE)

Iratxe GARCÍA PÉREZ (S&D, ES)

Dacian CIOLOŞ (Renew , RO)

Philippe LAMBERTS (Greens/EFA, BE)

Jörg MEUTHEN (ID, DE)

Raffaele FITTO (ECR, IT)

Martin SCHIRDEWAN (The Left, DE)

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European Commission

EU Cohesion policy: First Gender Equality Report maps female achievements and disadvantages in EU regions

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The Commission has published the first Regional Gender Equality Monitor of the EU. It provides an accurate picture of where women achieve the most at regional level in Europe, and where they face the largest disadvantages. Cohesion and Reform Commissioner Elisa Ferreira (pictured) said: “I am delighted to bring forward this ground-breaking work on mapping the glass ceiling that women face at regional level in Europe. The report demonstrates that there is still a lot to do to help women achieve the same opportunities as men. The Commission will continue working hard towards a gender-equal Europe.”

The paper is based on two specially developed indices: the ‘Female Achievement Index' and the ‘Female Disadvantage Index'. They reveal both the regions where women are achieving more and where they are at a disadvantage compared to men. The paper shows that, on average, women in more developed regions are able to achieve more and are at less of a disadvantage, while most women in less developed regions face big challenges. Within countries, women in capital regions tend to achieve more and are at less of a disadvantage. In general, regions with a lower female achievement index have a lower gross domestic product per capita, while regions with a higher level of female achievement have a higher level of human development. Finally, the quality of government is higher in regions where women achieve more.

In addition to the working paper, the underlying data and the interactive tools, results are also available in the INTERACTIVE DATA STORY.

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European Commission

High Representative/Vice President Borrell travels to Washington

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High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell (pictured) will be in Washington DC to 15 October. He will hold a number of high-level meetings focused on the relationship between the European Union and the United States of America, on advancing the transatlantic agenda and on pressing international developments. This will be the first official visit by High Representative Borrell to Washington since the new US administration took up office. On Thursday, 14 October, High Representative Borrell will meet with the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to discuss current foreign policy issues and initiatives to deepen further the EU-US strategic partnership and advance an already close cooperation on foreign and security policy. He will also hold a meeting with the US Deputy Secretary of Defence Kathleen Hicks to discuss how to pursue enhanced bilateral co-operation in the field of security and defence. More information is available here.

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European Commission

Commission participation in the Annual Meetings of World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund

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Several members of the Commission will participate in the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group (WBG) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) taking place this week in Washington DC, United States of America. The meetings will bring together central bankers, ministers of finance and development, private sector representatives, civil society, and academics to discuss issues of global concern, including the world economic outlook, global financial stability, poverty eradication, jobs and growth, economic development, and aid effectiveness.

Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni will attend the meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors and the G7 ministerial meeting. Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis will participate virtually in the plenary session of the International Monetary and Financial Committee. A written statement will be contributed by Jutta Urpilainen, Commissioner for International Partnerships, to the plenary session of the Development Committee Meeting.

This meeting will revolve around two topics: ‘WBG Financing for Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development (GRID) – Towards A Post Pandemic Approach' as well as ‘Prevention, Preparedness, and Response: The WBG's Role in Future Crises'. Commissioner Gentiloni will also appear at an event organised by the Brookings Institution and will hold an exchange of views with the US Chamber of Commerce on the economic outlook and current policy priorities on Thursday, 14 October.

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